Biofuels, the burning questions
Today, BirdLife International, the European Environmental Bureau and the Transport and Environment are organising a high level event at the European Parliament entitled: 'Biofuels: the burning questions'.
The event, hosted by Fiona Hall MEP (Member of the European Parliament; Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) and Sirpa Pietikainen MEP (European People’s Party) includes some of the world’s top scientists studying the impacts of bioenergy such as Jerry Melillo and Tim Searchinger, and key decision makers, such as Karl Falkenberg, Director General of DG Environment, European Commission.
In December 2008, the EU passed a new Renewable Energy Directive which sets a mandatory target of 20% of final energy consumption to come from renewable sources by 2020. The Directive also includes a special 10% target for renewables in transport, which is expected to be met mostly through a large increase of biofuels use.
The EU has introduced a set of sustainability standards for biofuels, but not for other forms of bioenergy such as solid biomass burning for heat and power production. The NGOs believes current safeguards are insufficient even for biofuels. For example current rules do not account for the impacts arising from indirect land use change (ILUC) caused when agricultural land is taken for biofuels and food production is therefore displaced elsewhere.
"Bioenergy can and must be part of the solution to climate change, but under current EU rules there is a great risk of perverse outcomes" —Ariel Brunner , Senior EU Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife International’s European Division
The surge in the use of bioenergy poses many sustainability issues both in Europe and globally, such as the clearing of rainforests and other habitats for expansion of plantations or the increased harvesting of fuel wood from natural forests.
The event will however mainly focus on the need to fix the currently flawed methodology used to calculate the greenhouse gas costs and benefits of biomass. The EU currently considers biomass burning to have zero emissions and ignores ILUC. Recent research shows that a failure to correct this could lead to a widespread destruction of carbon stocks such as forests and grasslands.
“Bioenergy can and must be part of the solution to climate change, but under current EU rules there is a great risk of perverse outcomes: the wrong technologies and feedstocks being chosen, emissions increasing and ecosystems being damaged”, commented Ariel Brunner, Senior EU Agriculture Policy Officer, at BirdLife International’s European Division.
Today BirdLife and a group of environmental and social NGOs have also launched a new publication analysing the current EU biofuels policy, highlighting its shortcomings and containing detailed recommendations for improving it.
"The European Parliament was key in improving the sustainability criteria in the Renewables Directive”, said Fiona Hall - MEP. “MEPs fought very hard for a good calculation method which would take account of the impact of indirect land use change. When the proposals on indirect land use change and also on the sustainability criteria for biomass are published by the Commission, we will be looking at them very carefully in order to get a framework in place that will ensure that bioenergy genuinely reduces greenhouse gas emissions”.
"The EU should agree upon binding sustainability criteria for biomass that is jointly agreed upon after consultation with experts and stakeholders. These should include an end use greenhouse gas efficiency target of 80-90 per cent. These are vital in ensuring that biomass is part of climate solution and not part of the climate problem", added Sirpa Pietikäinen-MEP.
Download the recently launched publication 'Biofuels: Handle with care' here.
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Credits: BirdLife International