Biomass and Biofuels in the EU: Emotion-Based Policymaking?
by Francis X. Johnson (Stockholm Environment Institute/Euractiv) The European Commission’s tinkering on biomass policy effectively promotes oil over economically viable and sustainable biofuels … — … In its proposed legislative changes, the European Commission abandoned the position it adopted in the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) of a separate target of 10% for renewables in transport. This is in spite of the fact that the transport sector lags far behind other sectors, with only 6% by the end of 2015, which as the Commission notes, is due in part to regulatory uncertainty.
Well, maybe the issue is being addressed in the broader context of biomass use. The majority of biomass used in the EU and globally is for animal feed, followed by food, materials and heat/power. Only around 1% of biomass is used to produce liquid biofuels. One would expect the main effort to be directed at improving the effectiveness and reducing GHG impacts for the large sectors, right?
Wrong again. The Commission focused on the sector that accounts for a tiny share of biomass use, proposing to phase out supports for biofuels based on “food crops.” The main rationale is the perceived competition between food and fuel. Thus we would expect to see both growing evidence and other regions following suit, especially in developing countries, right?
Wrong again. Although some countries promote biofuels from non-food crops, none has come out completely against using food crops. On the contrary, some developing countries have significant surpluses of food crops such as cassava and promote them for biofuels. Otherwise the crops will simply go to waste rather than supporting rural development.
But certainly the Commission has considered the wide differences in GHG emissions associated with different biofuels so that at least there are opportunities for those first generation biofuels that meet the 60% reduction requirement, right?
Wrong again. The Commission lumps them all in the same category.
The Commission ignored some aspects of its own report (GLOBIOM study) which showed that bioethanol feedstocks (e.g. maize, wheat, sugarcane) had much lower ILUC. Perennial crops even have the potential for negative ILUC since they increase carbon sequestration capacity. Yet all “food-based” biofuels are lumped together in the Commission’s formulation.
Since both advanced biofuels and electric vehicle technology are quite expensive and will take quite long to scale up, the Commission’s tinkering promotes oil over biofuels.
… precisely because it is a diverse sector that is connected to the wider bio-economy, opponents can use a “divide and conquer” strategy by claiming conflicts across different biomass uses, whereas in reality there can also be synergies and complementarities.