News Land Grabbing / Agrofuels – June 2014

EU Energy Ministers reach an agreement on the consumption of agrofuels


During the Council meeting of 13 June EU Energy Ministers have reached an agreement on placing a 7 % limit or cap on the use of food-based biofuels in transport fuels, only Belgium and Portugal voted against the agreement. Although, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and Italy all supported the proposal, they considered that the proposal was not ambitious enough. In September 2013 the Council failed to agree on the compromise of the Parliament regarding biofuels, which proposed a 6% limit, while the European Commission initially proposed a limit of 5%. So clearly the member states are less ambitious to introduce stringent limits on food-based agrofuels. What is more, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia issued a joint declaration that they would vote against a lower cap. These countries can form a blocking minority in the Council and thus they have de facto vetoed any lower limit on agrofuels. In a world where almost 1 billion people go hungry, it is irresponsible to continue to burn food for fuel and food-based biofuels should be phased out instead of being given public support.


What does the 7% limit mean? Currently, the consumption of agrofuels is around 4,7% of all transport fuel. The cap of 7% does allow manufacturers to increase production, which will increase Europe’s land footprint even more. According to one study, the continued use and production of agrofuels will require a land surface representing three times the UK territory to meet demand in 2030. So the EU will have “to import land”, increasing pressure on farmland in Africa in order to satisfy the EU-demand for agrofuels. This competes directly with access to land for food production by family farmers’, indeed; large scale plantations for biofuel production are already displacing family farmers endangering the food sovereignty of entire countries. On top of that, agrofuels also contribute to higher and volatile food prices, in this way increasing the food bill of poor consumers.


Some studies argue that agrofuels emit even more CO2 when one takes into account indirect land use change (ILUC-factors), such as the clearance of rainforests to make place for plantations for producing crops for agrofuels. The new agreement of the Council includes these ILUC-factors, but merely a reporting requirement. The Commission will produce annual reports on ILUC-factors related to biofuels production, based on the data produced by member states. However, this is off course not a binding criterion that will prevent neither displacement of local farmers nor deforestation.


The agreement also includes a non-binding target of 0,5% for advanced biofuels, such as biofuels made from algae, waste and agricultural residues. In principle these biofuels avoid emissions from the change in land use and they do not compete with land for food production. Environmentalists consider these biofuels more sustainable than food-based biofuels; however, a merely non-binding target is not likely to change the priorities in the biofuels industry.


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