Indirect Land Use Change For Biofuels

The European Commission has published a report on indirect land use change related to biofuels and bioliquids. The report acknowledges that indirect land use change can reduce greenhouse gas emissions savings associated with biofuels, but also identifies a number of uncertainties. The Commission will now conduct an impact assessment, thereby taking into consideration potential changes to the existing legislation.

The 2009 Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives set targets of a 10% share of renewable energy in the transport sector and a 6% greenhouse gas reductions for fuels used in the transport sector in 2020. The contribution from biofuels to these targets is expected to be significant.

In order to avoid possible negative side-effects, both Directives impose sustainability criteria that biofuels and bioliquids need to comply with in order to be counted towards the targets. These criteria include provisions to prevent the conversion of areas of high biodiversity and carbon sinks such as forest and wetlands. They also require minimum greenhouse gas emission savings from biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

However, there is a risk that part of the additional demand for biofuels will be met through an increase in the amount of land devoted to agriculture worldwide. This could lead to emissions associated with the conversion of land indirectly. Therefore, the Commission is required to review the impact of indirect land use change on greenhouse gas emissions and propose legislative action for minimising that impact if appropriate.

Estimating the greenhouse gas impact due to indirect land use change requires projecting impacts in the future, which is inherently uncertain, since future developments will not necessarily follow trends of the past. The estimated impact can only be established through modelling. In this context the Commission recognises that a number of deficiencies and uncertainties which could significantly impact on the results remain to be addressed.

Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard says: “We have to ensure that the biofuels we promote deliver clear greenhouse gas savings. Although we have developed robust sustainability criteria for their production, we must not ignore any unwanted impacts that may be caused globally as a result of the additional demand. Action in the field should follow a precautionary approach.”

The Commission will now focus on carrying out a detailed assessment of a shortlist of the potential policy approaches for dealing with this issue, which will be presented no later than July 2011.

Should the forthcoming Impact Assessment come to the conclusion that legislative action is needed, the Commission will ensure that any future policy decision is based on the best available and most accurate science. The Impact Assessment will consider the following policy options:

* take no action for the time being, while continuing to monitor;

* increase the minimum greenhouse gas saving threshold for biofuels and bioliquids;

* introduce additional sustainability requirements on certain categories of biofuels and bioliquids;

* attribute a quantity of greenhouse gas emissions to biofuels reflecting the estimated indirect land use change impact.

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