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News : European Last Updated: Jan 16th, 2008 - 08:04:36

European Union countries fighting over share-out for cutting greenhouse gas emissions; Environment Commissioner now says some biofuels do more harm than good
By Finfacts Team
Jan 15, 2008, 06:01

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From Royal Society report referred to below

European Union countries are fighting for national interest within days of the Commission publishing the country-by-country targets share-out for cutting greenhouse emissions.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is in disarray after the Environment Commissioner in effect admitted that a biofuel production target was a naïve response to demands of some environment campaigners, without an appreciation of the consequences. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas now says that some biofuels do more harm than good for the environment.

The issue is an illustration of the damage politicians can cause to the efforts to respond to climate change. The recent case in Ireland of the announcement of a ban on incandescent light bulbs from January 2009, to provide political spin at the December Bali Climate Change Conference, is a local example. Full "consultation" is now beginning but Minister for the Environment John Gormley cannot say if the ban will include fridge light bulbs!

The Financial Times reports today that the French government is currently in talks with German counterparts about building a common front against the Commission's emissions' target proposals, much as the two joined forces to undermine Brussels’ energy package last year. 

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has written to José Manuel Barroso, commission president, saying some proposals are “neither efficient, fair nor economically sustainable” because they do not take account of what France has already done.

In the letter seen by the FT, Sarkozy stressed his support for a system to cut carbon emissions and promote renewable energy but warned that the proposals could unfairly penalise France and endanger European industry. “European constraints would push industry to shift production to these countries [without similar carbon reduction obligations]. Global emissions would not fall and jobs would disappear from Europe.”

Biofuels could be more damaging to the atmosphere than fossil fuels

Stavros Dimas, European Environment Commissioner, admitted in an interview on Monday that the EU had underestimated the dangers of causing food shortages and rainforest destruction by dictating a binding target for 10 per cent of all EU road fuels to come from "green" sources by 2020.

"We have seen that the environmental problems caused by biofuels and also the social problems are bigger than we thought they were. So we have to move very carefully," he said.

In the US, the biofuels industry is simply another farm support program and demand for corn-based fuels has helped drive up grain prices across the world and Brazil and Indonesia - the world's third and fourth biggest emitters of greenhouse gases - have increased deforestation to increase lucrative production in sugar cane and palm oil - both used to make biofuels.

False Panaceas for Fools on Biofuels and Organic Food

Rise in biofuel production in China and India may cause shortages of water

World loses forest area size of Ireland annually; Accounts for 18% of CO2 emissions - exceeding entire global transport sector

“The problem is that we have no alternative to oil at the moment, and 90 percent of our transport in Europe depends on oil, making us extremely vulnerable to foreign supplies,” said Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, the spokesman for the European Union’s Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs.

Environment Commissioner Davos is reported to favour banning some biofuel products that would likely have the biggest effect on growers of palm oil in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

For example, a certification system may be required to prove that recently cleared land wasn't used - a measure that is likely to be more palatable for the conscience than practical -or fuels that emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases produced during the process of manufacturing biodiesel from palm oil, would be banned.

From International Institute for Environment report referred to below

Life is never as simple as politicians, seem to believe, when setting targets.

Sonja Vermeulen, senior researcher in the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Forestry and Land Use Programme commented on Monday: “Government targets, rather than independent market demand, have been the major force behind acceleration of biofuels markets over the past five years.

Thus the EU announcement should have a major impact on market development - even more so if other major importers, such as the US and India, follow suit to establish sustainability standards. The EU announcement is an important step towards reconciling the highly polarised positions of biofuels supporters (mainly governments, investment agencies and large companies) and detractors (mainly environmental NGOs and lobby groups).

In reality, policy decisions about biofuels involve difficult trade-offs: carbon benefits versus other environmental benefits; food security versus export development; efficient large-scale production versus smaller-scale or mixed production systems that deliver more equitable rural development.  We hope that any new certification scheme for biofuels considers the distribution of costs and benefits of the scheme, especially to poorer producers and consumers.”

Sonja Vermeulen is among the authors of a report that IIED recently produced for the Common Fund.

The report is about the difficult trade-offs and hard choices that potential producer countries need to consider when deciding whether, and how, to invest in biofuels. It provides a ‘decision tree’ to guide national governments and other decision-makers through the key choices (including those on feedstock choice, food security, environment, social issues, economics and markets).

Biofuels are not the silver bullet for meeting the rising demand for transport while tackling emissions

Biofuels risk failing to deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from transport and could even be environmentally damaging unless the Government puts the right policies in place warns a new Royal Society report on Monday.

The report Sustainable Biofuels: prospects and challenges cautions that the UK's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which comes into force in April 2008, does not necessarily encourage the use of the types of biofuels with the best greenhouse gas savings. This is because, although the Obligation requires fuel suppliers to ensure that five per cent of all UK fuels sold are from a renewable source by 2010, it does not contain a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The RTFO is the UK's implementation of the EU Biofuels Directive, which also fails to include a greenhouse gas target. As a result, the Directive will do more for economic development and energy security than combating climate change.

Professor John Pickett, who chaired the Royal Society biofuels study, said: "Biofuels could play an important role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions from transport both here and globally. Cars, lorries and domestic air travel are responsible for a massive 25 per cent of all the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and this figure is growing faster than for any other sector."

"The Government must ensure that the RTFO promotes fuels with the lowest emissions by, for example, setting a greenhouse gas reduction target. This will help encourage the improvement of existing fuels and accelerate the development of new ones. Without a target we risk missing important opportunities to stimulate exciting innovations that will help us cut our spiralling transport emissions."

The report also recommends that the RTFO be extended for 20 years in order to stimulate the kind of long term investment necessary to foster a strong UK biofuels industry. It warns that without the right support, including of the research and development community, there is a risk that we will miss out on developing the biofuels that could bring greater benefits and that we could become locked in to using inefficient biofuels.

John Pickett said: "In designing policies and incentives to encourage investment in and the use of biofuels it is important to remember that one biofuel is not the same as another. The greenhouse gas savings of each depends on how crops are grown and converted and how the fuel is used. So, indiscriminately increasing the amount of biofuels we are using may not automatically lead to the best reductions in emissions."

The report calls for biofuels to be assessed and certified for the greenhouse gas savings they will deliver, as well as their positive and negative social and environmental impacts.

John Pickett said: "The UK is leading the way internationally by developing carbon and sustainability reporting for biofuels as part of the RTFO. This information is crucial so we can identify and promote the fuels produced in a way that is good for people and the environment. We have a particular responsibility to do so since the UK will have to rely on crops grown elsewhere in the world to meet demand.

"We must not create new environmental or social problems in our efforts to deal with climate change. Indeed, while the RTFO is a reasonable start, unless certification is applied to the production of all biofuels and is a system used by all countries we will merely displace rather than remedy the potentially negative effects of these fuels."

The report says that biofuels are not the silver bullet for meeting the rising demand for transport while tackling emissions. Delivering a sustainable transport system will require combining biofuels with other developments including the improved design of vehicles and engines, increased use of public transport and better urban and rural planning to encourage, for example, walking and the use of bicycles.

A video interview with Professor John Pickett can be seen here

Finfacts Climate Change Reports

© Copyright 2007 by Finfacts.com

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