Europe Urged to Re-reconsider Biofuels Policy

John Davis

eu-flagIt wasn’t that long ago that Europe was a champion of biofuels, in particular, biodiesel, as just a few years ago the continent adopted a policy of having 10 percent of transportation fuels come from renewable sources, including biofuels. This boosted biodiesel demand, coupled with favorable tax laws and the popularity of diesel vehicles. This piece in Public Service Europe says that when cheaper imported vegetable oils replaced European biofuels crops, there was pushback that was unfounded and really amounted to trade protections for Europeans, and now the continent is moving to a 5 percent usage level … basically where it stands today. But the article says it’s not too late for Europe to re-reconsider its biofuels policy:

Therefore, with this cap, the EU endangers – or reinterprets – its own 10 per cent target leaving the status quo, conventional oil, as the biggest winner. And it strikes a blow to equity and development. Shall we continue to import oil from rich countries so they can become richer rather than taking the opportunity to import biofuels from poor countries? Wild, rapid policy shifts like this have costs. They disrupt markets, stifle innovation and undermine the EU’s credibility.

The European Commission, supported by the European Parliament and the European Council needs to rise above the controversy. They must stop being reactive and make sound, evidence-based improvements to the biofuels policy. What would a smart, proactive EU biofuels policy look like? First of all, it would judge biofuels not by over-broad categories such as ‘food crops’ but by directly relevant measures of sustainability such as land use intensity and energy and greenhouse-gas balances.

The article goes on to call for a smart biofuels policy to address land use and food security without ceding energy control to petroleum. And it calls for something we’ve heard here on Domestic Fuel before: an all-of-the-above energy approach:

There is no silver bullet: we need an array of solutions. But policy-makers need to keep in mind that while biofuels are conditionally sustainable, the fossil fuels they displace are always unsustainable. The EU faces a choice when it comes to biofuels. It can bow to political pressure, impose arbitrary constraints and throw away the good with the bad or it can be a leader. If the union combines proactive engagement abroad with sensible and more consistent market signals at home, the global and EU biofuels markets can move in tandem on a sustainable path – rather than ending up on separate and conflicting trajectories. Otherwise the combination of publicity-seeking NGOs and protection-seeking agri-businesses will ensure that the oil keeps burning while the commission keeps fiddling.

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