PM+: Farming lobby warns against cutting EU biofuel targets

Written by Pekka Pesonen on 27 February 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

Now is not the time to jeopardise the benefits of biofuel production, says Pekka Pesonen.

Europe needs to boost its use of conventional biofuels in transport. Biofuels cut transport emissions substantially and help break the EU's dependence on oil while also ensuring good feed supplies for animals.

As the European parliament's environment committee gets set to debate Finnish MEP Nils Torvald's report on the issue, now is not the time to jeopardise these biofuel-based benefits.

At Copa-Cogeca we believe current EU biofuels policy supports food security as only a fraction of rapeseed or wheat is used to produce biodiesel or bioethanol.

The rest is a protein-rich by-product used for animal feed, which therefore allows the EU to decrease its dependency on soya imports. The EU in fact has a plant protein deficit importing 70 per cent of its needs from the United States and South America.

We therefore urge MEPs to favour having at least eight per cent of transport fuels made from crop-based fuels. The European commission's proposal to introduce a five per cent cap for first generation biofuels could lead to a reduction - by a third - in EU rapeseed surface area, disturbances on the cereals and sugar markets, as well as a reduction in possible crop diversification.

"Capping first generation biofuels would prevent Europe's plant protein deficit from being rebalanced"

Capping first generation biofuels would prevent Europe's plant protein deficit from being rebalanced. It could also harm the stability of agricultural markets and would under-utilise our production capacity.

Only recently, EU leaders announced that land should not be taken out of production. The risk that arable land will be abandoned is very real. Between 1.5 and two million hectares of arable land within the EU have not been brought back into production since the end of set-aside schemes in 2009, and the full production potential of the EU's newest member states has not yet been realised.

Capping could also undermine investments in second-generation biofuels.

Only recently, the UN food and agriculture organisation's Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said “We need to move on from the food versus fuel debate. Evidence shows that when developed responsibly, sustainable biofuel production systems can offer an additional source of income for poor farmers”.

And this is crucial if farmers are to feed a growing world population which is estimated to rise by 60 per cent by 2050.

Additionally we are also against the inclusion of indirect land use changes (ILUC) in the legislative provisions as the models used as a basis to introduce ILUC factors in the fuel suppliers reporting to member states were, we believe, unacceptable and not backed up by science.

"A stable and targeted decarbonisation policy to support biofuels, including certified sustainable biofuels made from arable crops, is vital post-2020"

They also were not agreed at international level. ILUC is not suitable for estimating the precise extent of land use change in non-EU countries or the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, due to critical data errors and methodical problems.

We maintain that the current policy remains realistic, due to productivity gains and increases in agricultural yields, as long as conventional biofuels are produced in a way that does not prejudice food production.

Today’s conventional biofuels ensure that food and fuel are complementary. The EU biofuels industry is also a key driver for growth and jobs in EU rural areas.

A stable and targeted decarbonisation policy to support biofuels, including certified sustainable biofuels made from arable crops, is vital post-2020.


About the author

Pekka Pesonen is secretary-general of Copa-Cogeca, the European farmers and agricultural cooperatives association

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