Inaction as biofuels continue to grab land and pollute

22 February 2013

Reforms to Europe's rules on biofuels were top of the agenda at a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels today.

It was the first time ministers commented on proposals to limit the quantities of crop-based biofuels that can count towards EU renewable energy targets. [1] The policy was proposed by the European Commission last year as a means to address so-called 'indirect land use change' (ILUC) where agriculture has to expand to accommodate biofuels demand. [2]

Commenting on the discussion of biofuels and ILUC reforms by Ministers in the EU Energy Council, Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Too many ministers today failed to face up to the reality of the damage biofuels are doing to people and the planet.

"The myth of 'green' biofuels was exposed long ago, with evidence clear that biofuels are competing with food production, are emitting more carbon compared to fossil fuels, and grabbing land from local communities.

"The EU must act now to stop crops being used to fuel cars, and properly account for biofuels' carbon emissions.

"Instead of reliance on harmful biofuels, Europe needs a genuinely green transport policy that actually reduces emissions and doesn't wreck the environment."

The proposals will need to be agreed by EU politicians in the coming year.

Figures were released yesterday by research group GRAIN, showing how global biofuels demand has driven nearly 300 reported large-scale land grabs worldwide – equating to some 17 million hectares grabbed from local populations over the past decade. [3]

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[1] Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Directive 98/70/EC relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels and amending Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources

[2] The European Commission proposals aim to set a 5% ‘cap’ on the quantities biofuels can count to renewable energy targets.  But they fail to introduce proper carbon accounting for indirect land use change (ILUC) – meaning that biofuels with higher greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels (e.g. from palm oil, soy and rapeseed) can still be sold on the EU market.

Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on Energy Ministers and Members of the European Parliament to strengthen the proposals in the following ways:

(i) Make the proposed 5% 'cap' on 'biofuels from food' a genuine and robust limit on the consumption of all "land-based biofuels"; and establish a trajectory to reduce the cap to 0% as soon as possible (latest by 2020). The limit must also apply to the quantities of biofuels that are used to comply with the Fuel Quality Directive, and to subsidies that support land-based biofuels.

(ii) Introduce factors for indirect land use change (ILUC) into all emissions accounting for biofuels. The legislation should not just ‘report’ but fully account for indirect carbon emissions in the lifecycle analysis of biofuels, in both the Fuel Quality and Renewable Energy directives. This can ensure that biofuels that cause more GHG emissions than fossil fuels (e.g. palm oil, soy) are not sold on the European market.

(iii) For 'advanced' biofuels that are incentivised in the proposal, develop clear definitions of sustainable ‘waste streams’, ‘by-products’, and ‘residues’, together with strong environmental safeguards to prevent displacement and ensure that there are no further negative social or environmental impacts e.g. from over-extraction of agriculture residues or forest biomass.

(iv) Make road transport greener by promoting long-term and sustainable solutions: reduce energy use, increase efficiency, and accelerate the renewable-electrification of our transport system.

[3] “Against the Grain: Land grabbing for biofuels must stop”

[4] ‘ILUC’ means that many biofuels harm the climate even more than the fossil fuels they replace.

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. (see

Friends of the Earth Europe has also documented evidence that demand for biofuels have pushed up food prices and hunger

Biofuels are also heavily subsidised and push up prices for consumers.