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Biofuels Must Be Made Sustainably, Says European Commission

The European Commission is developing legislation that will require minimum sustainability standards for biofuels development, European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said at the recent International Biofuels Conference in Brussels, Belgium, on July 5–6. As part of its ongoing energy strategy, the European Union (EU) has agreed on an action plan to have biofuels comprise at least 10 percent of the region’s transport fuel use by 2020. "It is, of course, essential to ensure that this increase is fulfilled in a sustainable way; we cannot just sit back and assume this will happen automatically," Piebalgs said.

Current trends indicate that 60 percent of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the EU between 2005 and 2020 will come from transport, according to Piebalgs. Emphasizing that, "biofuels are not the panacea for all our energy problems," he noted that the renewable fuels—primarily biodiesel and ethanol—can help tackle climate change and other environmental challenges, but only if developed correctly. "Most biofuels deliver solid greenhouse gas savings—but there exist inefficient production techniques that do not," Pieblags said. "The use of these production techniques must be avoided."

The directive currently under development will give legal backing to the 10-percent goal for biofuels and will include a set of minimum sustainability standards. Only biofuels that meet these standards will count toward the 10-percent target and be eligible for EU tax exemptions. The rules will apply equally to imports as well as to biofuels produced domestically. Debate continues within the EU on what the sustainability standards should include, particularly on issues such as bringing new land into cultivation and developing "second-generation" biofuels that can be derived from straw, organic waste, and woody material.

Worldwatch Institute biofuels expert Raya Widenoja applauds the Commission’s embrace of caution in pursuing its biofuels targets. "It is very encouraging that the EU is recognizing not only the important role these fuels can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also that not all biofuels are created equal," she says. If feedstock and production processes are not examined carefully, Widenoja notes, biofuels can do more environmental harm than good. She points to the example of palm oil production in Southeast Asia, which has increased due in part to rising European demand for biodiesel, but is also accelerating the destruction of virgin tropical forests.

According to Piebalgs, the European Commission’s biofuels directive will be ready by the end of 2007. The legislation is part of a larger EU push to have renewable energy sources account for 20 percent of the region’s energy market by 2020. After the draft directive is completed, it will be passed on to the European Council and Parliament for a final decision, Piebalgs said.

Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e2), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e2 provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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Comments

Great post!

If the economics don't work, recycling efforts won't either.
As our little contribution to make this economics of recycling more appealing, http://LivePaths.com blogs about people and companies that make money selling recycled or reused items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources.


Posted by: Luis on 4 Sep 07

Great post!

If the economics don't work, recycling efforts won't either.
As our little contribution to make this economics of recycling more appealing, http://LivePaths.com blogs about people and companies that make money selling recycled or reused items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources.


Posted by: Luis on 4 Sep 07

Great post!

If the economics don't work, recycling efforts won't either.
As our little contribution to make this economics of recycling more appealing, http://LivePaths.com blogs about people and companies that make money selling recycled or reused items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources.


Posted by: Luis on 4 Sep 07

Life-cycle assessment of green technologies is a challenging endeavor. When carbon-offset projects are created using Renewables like solar and wind, traditionally the energy required to manufacture, ship and install these projects has not been included in the carbon balance sheet. At this point those externalities are a by-product of industrial society’s business standards. Back-of-the envelope calculations show that on any significantly sized project these “carbon echoes” are nominal to their life-time of energy production of these systems. Additionally, value must be weighted in terms of the benefit towards the energy transition.

When addressing biofuels, the life-cycle effects of agricultural practices may have a significant effect on the environmental benefits of fuel usage. When an old growth rainforest is clear cut to plant a homogenous biofuel stock the perceived environmental benefit is incorrect. It’s like printing fake environmental bills. Other interesting issues regarding biofuels could include:

Transportation: If the biofuels are shipped half-way around the world powered by a diesel ship how does that affect the carbon reduction associated with the use or distribution of that fuel. Measurement and verification of the global supply chain are becoming more common and will lead to better accounting and in the future. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” so look for these measurement to lead to actions: sourcing bio-fuels locally, eventually shipping these fuels in transportation powered by bio-fuels.

Credit: Who gets credit for biofuels?… currently it is fuel mixing industry who is facing regulations and who is required to integrate alternative fuels in their distribution. They are asked to pass on these tax credits to consumers at the pumps, but direct transmission is yet unclear. Consumers are ultimately the ones who choose which vehicles and fuels they will purchase… shouldn’t they get credit for those environmental actions. If a company wants to decrease their carbon footprint and decides to purchase bio-diesel for their fleet, shouldn’t they be the ones to get credit for a GHG reduction. If both the company and the fuel supplier get credit than someone is double counting.

With this new green industrial revolution come vast inefficiencies which only can be addressed by leaders with integrity. The initial step is a rating system for the bio-fuels industry according to a international standard which quantifies the current relevant concerns. A universal fuel metric that shows the environmental cost of fuels and constantly shifts the taxes or rebates for these fuels to meet incremental goals will be the most affective and transparent method of shifting the transportation sector.


Posted by: Jan Rosen - MotivEarth on 7 Sep 07



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