by Cristina Mestre, Shipping and Fuels Officer, Transport & Environment
WHAT I KNOW IN 2016 THAT I DIDN’T KNOW IN 2015: As a newbie at T&E, it’s a challenge to summarise all I’ve learned about the biofuels story in the past seven months. But one lesson stands out: we need to continue winning the public debate on the sustainability of biofuels.
Once upon a time biofuel was ‘the thing’: it was a clean fuel which would help in phasing out the dirty fossil fuel era. Biofuels are mostly produced thanks to crops such as soy, palm and rapeseed. But because these crops use land and also provide food, they are not so sustainable.
Therefore in 2015 Europe did something not a single other country or region has yet done – it capped the use of land-based biofuels. Each member state can source no more than 7% of the 10% renewable target in transport from land-based biofuels. However, this is just up until 2020. What happens then?
Unsurprisingly, some are not happy with this cap and do not want any barriers to biofuels (including ‘bad’ biofuels) as of 2020. Some of them are already working on new biofuel mandates for the next decade that leave little room for the development of advanced biofuels – those made out of wastes, residues, etc, or other alternative fuels like green electricity.
Our view, however, is that the cap is should be reduced – resulting in the de facto phase-out of first-generation biofuels, creating room for better ones. We need to make the Commission see the ability it has to lead the way towards sustainable biofuels. We need to continue exposing the problem and talk about the massive indirect land-use change (ILUC) effects produced by land-based biofuels production. We need to talk about the new frontiers of biofuels production. And we will.
We also see the chance to engage all the stakeholders who have a say on this. By winning this political debate, we set the foundation for strong sustainable criteria for the introduction of advanced biofuels to the market, as well as for big technological improvements. Whether these technological leaps come about due to goodwill or obligation – both work! – they could yet drive us to zero-deforestation biofuels production, saving many megatons of CO2.
As a New Year’s resolution, all stakeholders involved in this debate need to commit to a sustainable EU biofuels policy. We should not see each other as enemies, but as ‘insights-carriers’ who have the different tools to make this happen. We at T&E will keep exposing the problem of deforestation driven by unsustainable biofuels – including at the new frontier of biofuels in Colombia where, at the end of last year, we shot a documentary. Hopefully this work will take us to a point in the not-too-distant future where we don’t need to expose the problem because it no longer exists.
Photo: Biofuels in the east German countryside (c) Dan Zelazo, Flickr Creative Commons