Rhein on Energy and Climate

Six years ago biofuels became “en vogue”. Europeans and, even more so, Americans considered them as a welcome complement to fossil fuels and an antedote to global warming. The EU fixed 5.75 percent for 2010 and 10 percent for 2020 as the share of biofuels in EU gasoline supply.

These days are gone. Today biofuels have become the scapegoat for soaring food prices, deforestation and rising environmental damage.World Bank, IMF, UNESCO, FAO have recently warned against expanding biofuels at the expense of food crops. Last week, the European Environmental Agency has also published a critical report on the negative effects of biofuels for the EU.

The Commission will have to revise its 10 percent target for 2020, even if this may not please the agricultural lobby. The EU cannot afford to be accused of setting aside precious agricultural land for biofuels while millions of poor in the world suffer from excessively high food prices.

The biofuel boom is bound to push up world food prices, alongside with droughts in Australia and rising demand for meat in China and other emerging countries.

In addition, biofuels require high fossil energy inputs. One litre of biofuel saves at best half a litre of fossil fuel. The Commission has therefore proposed minimum standards of energy efficiency. But these will be difficult to calculate and monitor. Brazilian sugar cane is a highly energy-efficient input, but not maize, palm oil, rapeseed or sugar beet.

Ergo: The Commission would be well advised not to pursue its ambitious 10 percent biofuels target for 2020. The EU should decree a moratorium and wait for scientific evidence on the sustainability of so-called second generation biofuels.

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