EU to Toughen Environment Criteria for Biofuels
Author: Paul Taylor
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a BBC interview the EU had initially underestimated the danger to rainforests and the risk of forcing up food prices from its policy of setting binding targets for the use of biofuels.
"We have seen that the environmental problems caused by biofuels and also the social problems are bigger than we thought they were. So we have to move very carefully," he said.
"We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from biofuels," Dimas said.
EU leaders set a mandatory target last March that at least 10 percent of transport fuel should come from biofuels by 2020.
Dimas told the BBC it would be better to miss the target than meet it by harming poor people or damaging the environment.
EU energy spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny told a news conference the Commission would stick to the 10 percent target in implementation proposals to be unveiled on Jan. 23 because it was an obedient servant of the bloc's political masters.
"However, certainly we will do that in a way that's going to cause no damage or at least less damage than if we used fossil fuels to achieve the same target," he said.
Tarradellas said the biofuels used would have to achieve a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for global warming, and not damage rainforests, as well as meeting other unspecified criteria which would be announced next week.
Biofuels that failed to meet the standards would not be allowed on the European market, he said.
EU officials said commissioners were still wrangling over the issue, part of a comprehensive package of energy and climate change legislation designed to make the 27-nation EU a world leader in the fight against global warming.
A coalition of environmental and development pressure groups wrote to EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs last week asking him to set much tougher standards for biofuel production or abandon the mandatory transport fuel target altogether.
"Large-scale biofuel production can cause negative indirect or knock-on impacts such as increasing food and feed prices and increasing water scarcity, which would lead to negative impacts on the world's poor," the 17 non-government organisations, including Oxfam and Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.
Dimas said the EU would introduce a certification scheme for biofuels and promised a clampdown on biodiesel from palm oil, which is leading to forest destruction in Indonesia.
Among issues still being debated within the Commission are to what extent the EU should favour imports of biofuels from countries such as Brazil and to what extent it should use agricultural subsidies to produce them at home, officials said.
Crops grown to make biofuels include corn, soybeans, rapeseed and sugar cane.
Economists have said subsidies to grow crops for biofuels could further increase the rising cost of food, while scientists say the benefits are not properly measured.
Scientists at Britain's Royal Society said in a report on Monday that a directive requiring fuel suppliers to use more biofuels will do little to combat climate change because it is not linked to targets for reducing greenhouse gases.
(Additional reporting by Michael Kahn in London, Editing by Peter Blackburn)