MEPs voted narrowly yesterday (11 September) to insert indirect land use change (ILUC) into EU biofuel legislation, but refused a mandate for negotiations to start with the Council of Ministers.
The Parliament in Strasbourg backed a European Commission proposal to limit the type of biofuel that can be used to meet EU renewable energy quotas. MEPs went further than the Commission, agreeing – by just nine votes – to add a requirement for binding accounting for ILUC.
The result was too close to give rapporteur Corinne LePage a mandate to begin immediate negotiations with member states. European People’s Party MEPs, who oppose including ILUC factors in the legislation, successfully proposed a second reading in the Parliament. The motion, denying LePage a negotiating mandate, passed by just one vote.
The result sparked concerns that questions over ILUC will persist – possibly for years. If no decision is taken in this parliamentary term, there will be “more uncertainty for the industry, especially the second generation biofuel industry,” said Nusa Urbancic of campaign group T&E. “Nobody will invest until they know what the final outcome will be.”
Offered three possible compromise options, MEPs supported a middle option crafted by LePage that would ease attaining the Commission’s proposed ‘cap’ on first-generation biofuel – thought to cause food shortages and increased emissions. But this also inserted ILUC issues into EU legislation for the first time – in the face of claims from the biofuel industry that the science around ILUC is too unclear for lawmaking.
The 2009 renewable energy directive dictates that 10% of transport fuel must come from renewable sources by 2020. The Commission proposed that only half of this (5%) could be met with traditional biofuel, with the other half coming from new second-generation biofuel that causes no ILUC. The Parliament’s position would raise this to 6%.
MEPs also voted to make ILUC factors binding in the fuel quality directive from 2020, which will discourage fuel companies from producing fuel thought to displace food or cause more emissions. They also added non-binding ILUC factors to the renewable energy directive, for accounting purposes only. The Commission had proposed only non-binding factors and only in the fuel quality directive.
A sub-target inserted in the renewable energy law would require 2.5% of the total to come from second-generation biofuel. As a concession to industry concerns, MEPs also inserted a sub-target for ethanol. This was welcomed by Rob Vierhout of bioethanol industry association ePure. But he criticised the cap and the inclusion of ILUC factors, saying the restriction would “significantly reduce the market for conventional biofuels in Europe”.
Kåre Riis Nielsen, director of European affairs for Novozymes, which makes second-generation biofuel, welcomed the 2.5% sub-target. “The report adopted by the European Parliament today is a complex package that reflects the lack of consensus on the ILUC issue,” he said. “Yet it is a good compromise that promotes best-performing biofuel while addressing ILUC concerns in a practical manner.”
Campaigners welcomed the inclusion of ILUC factors but deplored the raised cap. “A cap on biofuels of 6% is far above current levels of consumption,” said Marc Olivier Herman of Oxfam. “Whilst MEPs have avoided the worst-case scenario on the table, the European Parliament is still guilty of neglecting the needs of both the people and the planet.”
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