Energy ministers meeting in Brussels next Thursday (12 December) are set to dilute a European Commission proposal to rein in the use of ‘first-generation’ biofuel. Member states that had been backing deep reform because of concerns that these fuels may displace food crops and actually increase emissions have been bought off, according to Council sources.
The text drawn up by the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of Ministers would make more generous allowance for the use of first-generation biofuel in meeting European Union targets for renewable energy, and would remove an obligation on fuel companies to account for indirect land use change (ILUC).
Critics of current EU biofuel policy say it is driving land-grabs in the developing world and diverting food crops to fuel use. Because of changes in land use, and resulting deforestation, first-generation biofuels are causing more CO2 to be released into the atmosphere than they save through use as a fuel, it is alleged. New second-generation biofuels that are not derived from food crops should be incentivised in EU policy instead, say critics.
Member states that were initially supportive of reforms to reflect these concerns – including the UK, Germany, Sweden and Finland – have since gone quiet. The text from the presidency has massaged the Commission proposal into a compromise to appease them, according to Council sources.
Emmanuel Desplechin, director for energy and environment for renewable ethanol company ePURE says the text has become full of hand-outs. “A long wish-list of member states requests were included in the current ILUC proposal to come to a clever political agreement,” he said. The concessions include expansion of a list of biofuel feedstocks that can count double toward EU renewable transport targets, in a way that will make it easier for the UK and other countries that might otherwise struggle to meet the target. And Finland and Sweden stand to benefit from the addition of biomass from forests.
Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands remain opposed to weakening the text and will vote against the presidency’s proposal. Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are sceptical about ILUC, and would prefer no cap at all on use of first-generation biofuels. France firmly supports efforts to increase the cap.
MEPs voted in September to strengthen the ILUC requirements and to insert a subtarget for a minimum of second-generation biofuels. But French Liberal MEP Corinne LePage did not receive a mandate to begin negotiations with member states, forcing a second reading procedure. With the parliamentary term soon coming to an end, MEPs may have no choice but to accept whatever the Council adopts next week – rather than risk a stalemate which would see the reform drop off the EU agenda entirely.
Energy ministers will also adopt reports on completion of the EU’s internal energy market and on the external dimension of EU energy policy.
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