Oxfam & ActionAid welcome EU biofuels clampdown

By John Parnell

The EU decision to halve its target for biofuels from food crops has been welcomed by NGOs.

The joint announcement by the EU’s Energy and Climate Commissioners Günther Oettinger and Connie Hedegaard has divided the existing pledge to source 10% of transport fuels from renewable sources.

Half of this pledge must now be met specifically from biofuel sources that do not conflict with food crops.

Soya beans, corn, sugar cane and palm oil are all commonly used to manufacture fuels but campaigners say this reduces global food stocks at a time when extreme weather and failed harvests are already driving up prices.

Drought has severely impacted the corn harvest. The crop is widely used as a source for biofuels. (Source: Flickr/Claire.M)

“It is excellent news that the European Commission finally realizes that EU biofuels mandates are causing huge problems, including surging food prices, worsening hunger and accelerating climate change,” said Marc Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU biofuels expert.

“However the proposed 5% cap on first generation biofuels by 2020 won’t help to put the brakes on the current spike on food prices. EU biofuels mandates must be scrapped altogether now,” he added.

Clare Coffey, Policy Adviser at ActionAid echoed the Oxfam statement: “In a world where a billion go to bed hungry every night, it is immoral to turn precious food into fuel for our cars. The Commissioners must stand firm in the face of industry pressure and abolish crop based biofuels entirely.”

Biofuels can also be sourced from perennial grasses, willow, agricultural waste and used cooking oils that do not compete with crops.

The EU currently has a target of powering 10% of road transport from renewable sources by 2020, and an overall goal of generating 20% of the total energy supply from renewables by the same year.

Neste Oil, a producer of fuels and lubricants from renewable and fossil fuel sources told RTCC that it was already operating on a long term goal to produce half of its biofuels from waste products, rather than food stocks and called on its contemporaries to do the same.

“Biofuel and renewable fuel producers should aim at increasing their use of waste and residue-based raw materials, as well as 2nd generation raw materials such as algae or microbial oil,” said Sari Lehmuskallio-Eronen, Neste Oil spokesperson. “This is exactly the direction into which Neste Oil has been heading for the past years.

“Material classified as waste or residues accounted for 41% of the renewable raw materials used by Neste Oil in 2011,” he said.

“Although Neste Oil is still not aware of all the details listed in the draft proposal of the European Commission, many aspects of the proposed revisions have already been discussed industry-wide during the past months. We are glad to see that our raw material procurement focus on waste and residues is in line with the proposed revisions.”

Climate dilemma

In theory biofuels are a climate friendly source of fuel compared to current oil-based products.

Burning the plants does release CO2, but growing them absorbs a similar amount, in theory creating a cycle of CO2 without actually adding huge amounts to the atmosphere.

However, energy is used while farming and processing the crops – and this varies depending on where they are grown and by whom.

The EU biofuel target scheduled to come in next April requires a reduction of 35% in greenhouse gas emissions compared with its fossil fuel equivalent. This will eventually be ratcheted up to 60% as the technology for their development improves.

New sources including algae and seaweed have shown promise for the future.

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