MEPs vote to cap agricultural biofuels

29th April 2015


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Use of crop-based biofuels to help the EU meet its plans to decarbonise transport will be restricted after a vote in the European parliament yesterday.

The vote confirms a deal between the parliament’s environment committee and the EU’s council of ministers, reached in mid-April. Under the agreement, member states will only be able to count 7% of biofuels from agricultural crops towards the EU target for 10% of transport fuels to come from renewable sources by 2020.

Crop-based biofuels have been blamed for causing food price rises, deforestation and water shortages, while offering limited carbon savings.

For the first time, emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) will be recognised. Member states will be required to report on the emissions linked to ILUC when determining the fuels to include towards national biofuels targets and when identifying the ones that should receive public subsidies.

However, there will be no requirement for ILUC emissions to be included in the accounting of biofuels. The measure was backed by the European parliament, but most member states opposed it. This means that biofuels will still be counted towards EU targets and continue to be eligible for subsidies under the renewable energy and fuel quality Directives.

Pietro Caloprisco, senior policy officer at transport NGO Transport and Environment (T&E), said: “Maybe this is not the end of bad biofuels now. But this surely is the beginning of the end for pouring food in our tanks. The message is clear: land-based biofuels have no future in Europe, at least after 2020.”

In 2013, EU consumption of biofuels was at 4.7%, which means that the new agreement allows a substantial increase in the use of crop-based biofuels, T&E said. However, it noted that the 2030 climate and energy communication from the commission states that crop-based biofuels should not be supported after 2020 due to ILUC emissions.

Also yesterday, MEPs agreed new rules for the shipping industry, which will require operators of vessels to monitor and report greenhouse-gas emissions each year. The rules will apply from 2018 to ships using European ports that weigh more than 5,000 gross tonnes, regardless of the country in which they are registered.

Some ships will be exempt, including fishing vessels, warships and government ships used for non-commercial purposes.

The sector accounts for over 3% of all global greenhouse-gas emissions and the aim of the legislation is to drive down emissions by encouraging ship owners to invest in more efficient fleets.

However, T&E warned that improvements in efficiency will be offset by the increase in transport demand. The International Maritime Organisation predicts a 50–250% rise in shipping emissions by 2050. The rules will be put to a vote by the EU council, though it has already informally agreed them, according to the European parliament.

MEPs have also backed plans by the commission to develop criteria for managing forests sustainably. But a resolution, passed by 566 votes to 66, with 45 abstentions, stated that specific measures must remain a matter for member states to develop.

A new forest strategy, which will replace the 1998 one, should clarify the greenhouse-gas impact of various uses of forest biomass for energy, MEPs said. They also called on the commission to finalise a review of the effectiveness of EU timber regulation, which aims to combat the placing of illegal timber on the European market.

Finally, MEPs agreed binding targets to cut plastic bag use in the EU by 80% by 2025. EU countries will be required to reduce annual plastic bag use per person to 90 by 2019 and 40 by 2025, five times less than the EU average in 2010. Alternatively, they may introduce a mandatory charge for all plastic bags by the end of 2018. Most MEPs supported the proposal, although 18 Conservative MEPs abstained.

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