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EC rejects British MPs view on biofuels as shortsighted

January 22, 2008

(Biopact) - The European Union's Energy Chief today rejected the views on biofuels
presented by a group of British MPs, calling them shortsighted and incorrect on several
key points. The Commission says it will stick to the bloc's plans to boost the use of
biofuels to fight climate change and that it will implement previously announced plans to
ensure their sustainability.
The Commission also highlights many additional benefits of biofuels that go beyond reducing emissions - such as providing energy security and offering development opportunities in the South -, not included in the report.

The British MPs' view on biofuels is rigorously static and based on the current production methods employed in a very young, nascent industry. The perspective is therefor necessarily undynamic and fails to look at what biofuels can become. Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, responding to the Environmental Audit Committee report, said even this static view is inaccurate: The Commission strongly disagrees with the conclusion of the [...] report, where it says that the overall environmental effect of existing biofuel policy is negative. On the contrary, it is delivering significant greenhouse gas reductions, compared with its alternative, oil.Today, there are only three ways to reduce greenhouse emissions in the transport sector, the Commission says: the shift from polluting modes to more energy efficient ones (i.e. rail, short sea shipping, collective transport); the promotion of less consuming road vehicles, by establishing CO2/km targets(but these were rejected by the European Parliament); and biofuels.

The Commission is actively promoting the first two (white paper on transport; proposal to limit the CO2 emissions from cars 19/12/07 COM/2007/0856 final), but biofuels ought to be supported as well because this is the most immediately feasible way of significantly slowing the worrying growth of greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

This is of critical importance in a context where rising transport emissions are wiping out the hard-earned reductions of greenhouse gases achieved in other sectors.

Multiple benefits However, the Commission says, the key contribution of biofuels to the sustainability of the transport sector, should not make us forget its other benefits which are as important as the environmental ones namely: reducing our dependency on imported oil; providing a development opportunity for poor countries and paving the way for second generation biofuels (by developing refining capacity, distribution networks, biofuel cars, etc.).

Moreover, says executive body of the EU, the report fails to mention that, until other technologies such as hydrogen became competitive, the only alternative to biofuels is oil. This means: a shrinking source of energy with serious environmental concerns in the regions where it is produced, that generates large amounts of CO2 not only when it is burned, but also when is extracted (gas flaring), transported (by tankers) and refined. Not to mention the negative impact that its fast growing price is causing to our economies, the geo-strategical tensions of the areas where it is produced and the negative impact that it has had in developing countries. So said, the Commission shares the House of Common's concern that biofuels have to be sustainable, and that this sustainability has to be guaranteed by robust sustainability standards and mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change. This is precisely why the new directive for the promotion of renewable energy sources will call for the promotion of only sustainable biofuels, i.e. those that can ensure a substantial CO2 saving compared to the oil that would be consumed instead. Besides this, the directive will include, as a key element, a robust sustainability scheme that not only prevents damaging land use change, but also other environmental damages, such as the destruction of rain forests.

Currently biofuels are already traded with no such EU standards or sustainable schemes. The renewables directive will establish for first time in history such a scheme. In this sense it will be a first step in catalysing the development of international sustainability standards for agricultural production in general.
Biopact welcomes the Commission's recognition of the fact that the large biofuels potential in the South, offers chances for economic and rural development there.

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