Limiting the use of biofuels from food crops that can be used to fuel Europe’s cars moved a step closer today after MEPs voted to reform the EU’s biofuels policy.
EU law-makers voted once again to put a cap on the use of crops to make biofuels and also to account for their full climate impact. However the limit would still expand the use of food crops for fuel and would not end biofuels competing with food production.
Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “EU biofuels policy is a disaster – contributing to forest destruction, damaging communities around the world and destabilising food markets – while potentially increasing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than reducing them.
“Limits on biofuels that compete with food crops are absolutely vital, but today’s vote doesn’t go far enough to completely phase out the use of food in our cars.
“Nils Torvalds, the lead MEP in the process, must now bargain hard with EU governments to limit crop-based biofuels.”
MEPs voted to:
- Put a cap on land-using crops in biofuels at 6% of fuel use. However this is above current use which stands at 4.7%, and includes a contradictory compulsory target to blend more ethanol into the petrol mix.
- Introduce carbon accounting from 2020 – meaning a full picture of the climate impacts of biofuels production. 
- Set a target and certain sustainability criteria for so-called ‘advanced’ biofuels – however these are not rigorous enough and would permit some biofuels that compete with food crops for fertile land.
The vote comes in response to mounting concerns about the impact of increased biofuels demand on people and the environment across the world – driven in part by EU targets. From South East Asia to Latin America, forests have been cut down, there has been an increase in land-grabbing by biofuels companies, and an increase in food prices and volatility. Moreover, increased demand is potentially increasing greenhouse gas emissions – rather than reducing them.
The European Parliament and European Council failed to agree a joint text for the law in 2014, so this vote is the second time MEPs have considered how to amend EU biofuels policy.
In the coming weeks the Parliament, Council and European Commission will negotiate to find a joint position, with a final vote expected in April.
Notes: ‘Indirect land use change’ (ILUC) means that many biofuels harm the climate even more than the fossil fuels they replace – due to land use changes caused by the expansion of agriculture to meet the additional demand for crop-based biofuels.
In 2010, a report for Friends of the Earth Europe and others estimated that meeting EU biofuels targets will emit CO2 equivalent to adding an extra 14 to 29 million cars on Europe’s roads by 2020.