EU rethinks its original biofuel targets after ethical questions raised
In 2009 the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive set a target for EU member states to have 10% renewable energy in transport fuel by 2020 as part of greener energy policy.
Biofuels, which are developed from food crops, are the most established and possess the only real chance for EU member states reach this target.
This said, as a result of growing criticism from the fuel industry, the European Commission has proposed reducing the use of crop-based biofuels to a maximum of 5%.
The EU’s mandates have pushed for increased production of crop-based biofuels in particular, as member states struggle to reach the renewable energy targets.
Crop-based biofuels account for around 90% of the renewable energy used across EU transport sectors. However, recent research into crop-based biofuels has cast serious doubt over whether they really can offer an alternative to fossil fuels.
The most serious criticism towards the EU’s biofuel targets is its link to world hunger. Biofuels are almost exclusively made from either crops high in sugar, starch, or vegetable oil. Using land to grow fuel instead of food is contributing to the increase of food prices, poverty, and world hunger.
The land and crops which could be used for food in developing countries are instead being diverted to fulfil EU biofuel targets. Oxfam’s latest report, ‘The Hunger Grains’, finds that if the land used to grow biofuels for the EU in 2008 had been used to grow wheat and maize instead, it could have fed 127 million people for the whole year.
There is a second reason behind the EU’s cap on crop-based biofuels. A number of recent studies have found that the reduction in carbon emissions from using these particular biofuels instead of conventional fossil fuels may have been overestimated.
The second part of the Commission’s proposal is to end all subsidies to the crop-based biofuel industry after 2020. This will reduce their hold of the market and open up more investment opportunities for other, less established biofuels.
“We are pushing biofuels that help us cutting substantial CO2 emissions, do not compete with food and are sustainable and green at the same time,” said the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy.