EU Biofuels Policy: What Is the Impact on Rural Development?
by Sarantis Michalopoulos (EurActiv) EU farmers are “very concerned” about the impact of the European Commission’s change of heart on biofuels, claiming the EU’s restrictive policy is putting thousands of rural jobs at risk.
Yet, the EU executive defended its proposed post-2020 biofuels strategy, saying the policy shift towards advanced biofuels will create jobs in the long run.
The EU’s current strategy requires each EU member state to have “at least 10%” renewable energy used in transport by 2020 – including from biofuels and other sources like green electricity.
But that target will be scrapped after 2020, the European Commission confirmed last year, hoping to set aside a protracted controversy surrounding the environmental damage caused by first-generation biofuels derived from food crops.
For 2030, the EU executive proposed reducing the contribution of conventional biofuels in transport from a maximum of 7% in 2021 to 3.8% in 2030. It also set an obligation to raise the share of other ‘low emissions fuels’ such as renewable electricity and advanced biofuels in transport to 6.8%.
But Bernd Kuepker, an official at the Commission’s energy department (DG Energy), recently admitted that the EU executive had not assessed the impact of its 2030 biofuels proposal over rural employment.
Peka Pessonen, the association’s secretary-general, told EURACTIV that the biofuel industry will be forced to restructure itself because its production capacity would not be used to its fullest extent.
“The EU’s renewable energy and biofuels targets led to €16 billion of investments that generated 220,000 jobs, which are now at risk,” he said.
He added that considering that there will be no sugar quotas in place after 2017, there is a risk that uncertainty and volatility on the sugar and starch markets will be further exacerbated.
“The sugar beet sector should not be deprived of its ethanol for carburation outlet, which has a role in adjusting the competitiveness of the European sugar beet sector,” Pessonen noted.
Farmers also predict that ending EU support for conventional biofuels would cause rapeseed production to be abandoned due to the lack of a rapeseed oil market. Producers say they expect an income loss for farmers of around €300 per hectare.
“It is unrealistic to think that the EU could increase its exports of rapeseed oil to third countries twentyfold in order to replace the internal FAME biodiesel market or to replace other oils and fats on the EU food market if this were to be eliminated,” he stressed, …
Referring to the Commission’s impact assessment on the partial biofuels’ phase-out, T&E expert Laura Buffet underlined that any potential job losses in the food-based biofuel sector may actually not occur, as there would be time for the industry to restructure.
As for the full phase-out scenario, something that T&E recommends, the Commission concludes that it could lead to some direct job losses in conventional biofuel production “but that a transition to advanced biofuels could also lead to the creation of new jobs”.
Dr. Zoltán Szabó, a sustainability advisor in the bioenergy industry, thinks it is a “fundamental mistake” to equate jobs created and maintained by bioethanol plants with farming jobs.
“Various surveys show that jobs created indirectly in the service, logistics or maintenance industries vastly outnumber jobs created in farming,” he noted, highlighting that biorefineries are vital engines of rural job creation. READ MORE / MORE