Commission's biofuels policy 'pushing up food prices'


THE EUROPEAN Commission is under fire from environmentalists over its latest policy on biofuels, which they claim will cause further displacement of food crops and more greenhouse gas emissions.

“The research is clear from a series of EU reports – specifically compiled for the commission over the last four years – all showing that planting biofuels displaces food crops, thereby pushing up food prices,” according to James Nix, Irish representative of the Brussels-based Transport Environment lobby group.

“A large number of biofuels make climate change worse, doing exactly the opposite of what EU policy intended,” he said. “Biodiesel made from palm oil, for example, has been shown to produce around 20 per cent more emissions that regular petrol or diesel when changes in land use are counted. Without changes by parliament, Europe will ‘feed’ vehicles at the expense of people. Put bluntly, as the EU legislative process moves forward, MEPs collectively . . . risk becoming at least partly responsible for greater hunger and malnutrition, especially in lower-income areas.”

The EU’s 2009 directive on renewable energy set a target to achieve 10 per cent use of biofuels in road transport by 2020 on the basis that this would help reduce emissions. The latest proposal would reduce this to 5 per cent for “food-based biofuels” to stimulate development of alternatives, such as waste or straw.

The draft change in EU biofuels policy proposed by the commission does not go as far as scientists sought in seeking to limit the downside risks of converting land to grow biofuels. As such, it is seen as a setback for European Climate Action commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who will be visiting Dublin today.

Ireland’s commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who is in charge of research, innovation and science, has also been criticised, with one environmental critic saying it was “hard to see how [she] reconciles her stance (thinly disguised support for the farm lobby) with her nominal role as commissioner for research and innovation”.

Asked to respond to this charge, a spokesman for Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said “the whole commission has taken this decision based on sound scientific evidence and analysis. And to claim anything different is wrong.”

In a letter to the commissioner earlier this month, An Taisce and other environmental groups here noted that peer-reviewed scientific research had shown that support for conventional biofuels was resulting in the conversion of forests and in Latin America and southeast Asia to croplands for biofuel production.

“The emphasis needs to move to recycling waste oils, greases and fats, and the legislation to make this happen,” said Mr Nix, adding that there was a need for financial penalties on biofuels in proportion to the level of land-use change they cause.

“This is exactly what has been on the table for over three years – and an option which the EU Parliament can embrace now.”