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EU votes to scale back on biofuels linked to deforestation


Rainforest cleared for oil palm plantations. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Rainforest cleared for oil palm plantations. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.


The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly today on a new cap on biofuels derived from edible crops, which critics say not only compete with feeding a growing global population but also contribute to deforestation and release unacceptably high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The new legislation sets the cap on edible food crop biofuels—such as palm oil, corn, rapeseed, and soy—at seven percent. Currently, the EU set a 10 percent target for transport fuels will be so-called “renewable “by 2020.



“Let no one be in doubt, the biofuels bubble has burst,” said Robbie Blake, a campaigner from the Friends of the Earth Europe. “The EU’s long-awaited move to put the brakes on biofuels is a clear signal to the rest of the world that this is a false solution to the climate crisis. This must spark the end of burning food for fuel.”



A decade ago biofuels were touted as one among many solutions to climate change. However, research since then has increasingly argued that many biofuels may actually emit more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels due to deforestation and land use change. In addition, deforestation linked to biofuels for Europe has potentially led to biodiversity loss, land conflict, labor issues, and indigenous right issues in places as far away as Indonesia, Brazil, and Tanzania.



Under the new legislation, biofuel companies will still not have to take into account greenhouse gas emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC), which refers to the fact that biofuel development often unintentionally pushes deforestation into new areas. However, companies will have to estimate emissions from ILUC and report it to the European Commission in a bid to improve transparency.



The legislation has been largely viewed as a compromise by allowing long-supported biofuel production to go ahead, including research on “second generation” biofuels—like algae and waste—which would theoretically avoid the problems from the first round. But the legislation would still curb the amount of demand for crop-based biofuels, increase transparency, and send a message to the biofuel industry.



“While the EU has not gone far enough to stop the irresponsible use of food crops for car fuel, this new law acknowledges a reality that small-scale food producers worldwide know—that biofuel crops cripple their ability to feed the world, compete for the land that provides their livelihood, and for the water that sustains us,” said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, a food sovereignty coordinator with Friends of the Earth International.



The final vote over the new rile was 51 for, 12 against, and one absentia. The new legislation is expected to be approved by the European Plenary.