European Commission Caves in to Industry Over Biofuel Rules But GFC Demands Precautionary Approach

Note:  GJEP is the North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition.

13 September, 2011–In a long-awaited announcement last week[1], the European Commission decided to entirely ignore the indirect climate impacts of agrofuels for up to seven more years. The Global Forest Coalition (GFC), a network of more than 50 NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organisations worldwide, says the decision illustrates once more the absurdity of EU claims regarding “sustainable biofuels”.  GFC continues to call for the EU and EU member states to abolish biofuel targets and subsidies as the only way to prevent further disastrous consequences for forests, people and climate.

According to Commission minutes, the EU’s decision to ignore Indirect Land Use Change for the foreseeable future was due to ‘scientific uncertainties’.

“The EU claims to be committed to the Precautionary Principle, but this decision yet again flies in the face of precaution,” says Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch, the European Focal Point of GFC. “First, they ignored all warnings when pushing through a 10% biofuel target. Now they are using scientific uncertainties as an excuse for once again caving in to the agrofuel industry. Under the precautionary principle, uncertainties over extent of harm caused by agrofuels means that targets and subsidies must be stopped – instead of giving the agrofuel industry the benefit of doubt.”

A recent study published in Environmental Research Letters concludes that “nearly 60% of Amazonian deforestation occurring between 2003 and 2020 will be attributable to ILUC [Indirect Land Use Change’ associated with biofuel production”[2].  Furthermore, a recent report by a High Level Expert Panel published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, illustrates the key role that biofuels played in recent food price rises, responsible for a steep increase in the number of people going hungry worldwide [3].

GFC’s chairperson Fiu Mata’ese Elisara, an Indigenous leader from Samoa states: “We have long recognized that, so long as demand continues to grow for soya, palm oil, sugar cane and other biofuel feedstocks, ‘sustainability standards’ will fail to address the problem. The increasing demand is driven by policies from Europe and North America that favour targets and subsidies. The result is pushing agricultural frontiers further into forests, grasslands, peat lands and other natural ecosystems. It also forms a significant factor in the current food price boom, which has lead to far more people being hungry and malnourished all over the world. The only way to prevent this destruction is for EU and member states to halt the targets and subsidies. Instead, they are choosing to turn a blind eye and ignore these impacts altogether.”

The EU Renewable Energy Directive, which includes a 10% biofuel target for transport, already ‘exempted’ all agrofuels produced in installations operating by the end of 2012 from any ‘penalties’ over their indirect impacts until the end of 2017 [4].  This belies the Commissions’ claim that its decision aims to protect existing investments, rather than supporting future agrofuel production.

The Commission has indicated that it is considering an increase in existing “greenhouse gas standards” for biofuels as an alternative to addressing indirect land use change. However, Global Forest Coalition and others have dismissed this approach because it is based on a false accounting of climate impacts – made worse by the Commission’s decision to continue ignoring the indirect impacts, which account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.

Contacts:

Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition: +595-21-663654, +595985593591

Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch: +44-1224-324797

Notes:

[1] The Commission’s decision, with excerpts from minutes, was reported by Reuters on 8th September: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/09/08/us-eu-biofuels-idUKTRE7874NP20110908

[2] Statistical confirmation of indirect land use change in the Brazilian Amazon, Eugenio Y. Arima, Environmental Research Letters 6 (2011), 024010, http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/6/2/024010

[3] Price volatility and food security, a report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, July 2011, www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/hlpe/hlpe_documents/HLPE-price-volatility-and-food-security-report-July-2011.pdf

[4] Article 19(6) of the Renewable Energy Directive – Note that subsequent Guidance published by the Commission states that the term ‘installation’ applies not only to agrofuel refineries but even to palm oil, sugar cane or soya mills, which means that the ‘exemption’ would already have applied to agrofuels from most new refineries.

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