EU's biofuels policy in developing countries (The Parliament Magazine)


A new report says that the EU's biofuels policy in developing countries like Tanzania is having a "harmful" impact

Article by Martim Banks

It also says that the EU's assessment of the impact of its policies on such countries is "inadequate".

The report, by the 'Fair Politics Europe' campaign group, says Brussels has established several institutional mechanisms which have "fallen short" in tackling the "many incoherencies still perpetrated by the EU".

The study, which comes in the wake of a demand by EU research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn for more support for biofuel industries, analyses the development impact of the EU's biofuels policy in Tanzania.

It says that at a time of global energy insecurity and climate change, the EU "embraced" biofuels because of its perceived potential in reducing both CO2 emissions and fossil fuel dependency.

But it concludes, "Scientific evidence has shown that the greenhouse gas savings of food-based biofuels are largely disappointing, and in some cases they are even more polluting than their fossil fuel counterparts.

"Throughout the 2000s the EU has discussed and set targets for biofuels use in transport to stimulate their adoption," said the report.

This, it said, culminated in the renewable energy directive (RED) where the EU set a 10 per cent target for renewable energy in the transport sector, which would be met almost entirely through biofuels.

"This ambitious target is having harmful effects on people in developing countries across the globe," says the report.

"Food security is threatened by rising food prices as competition for food crops as biofuel feedstock increases, while the large-scale land acquisition for biofuel production by European firms in developing countries is causing many problems for rural communities."

Meanwhile, addressing a debate on biofuels, commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn has urged MEPs to "actively" back the executive's Horizon 2020 initiative.

The Irish official said the strategy aims to be a "driver" of economic growth and job creation.

Horizon 2020, she said, "builds" on research and innovation activities carried out under FP7, the EU research framework programme which ends this year.

Geoghegan-Quinn said the commission's Horizon 2020 proposal "foresees significant support" for biobased industries.

She used the event to "invite parliament to once again actively support an adequate budget" for Horizon 2020 and back implementation of the European "bioeconomy strategy."

The official, who is responsible for research and innovation, told the debate in parliament that biobased industries are a "cornerstone" of the bioeconomy.

"They can make a significant contribution to mitigating climate change and reducing our dependence on fossil resources by substituting petrol with biomass in the production of every day products like plastic cups, packaging, as well as fuels."

She added, "Biobased processes are also often more resource efficient than conventional ones. Biobased industries can thus significantly contribute to reaching the EU's ambitious climate change and energy efficiency objectives."

As well as environmental benefits, she said bio-based industries have "great potential" to generate economic growth and jobs.

"This will benefit both primary production sectors and processing industries, in particular in rural areas," she went on.

Some estimates, the event heard, consider that the global revenue potential of the entire biomass value-chain for biorefineries could exceed €200bn by 2020.

She added, "The bioeconomy is not a 'one-size-fits-all' concept. Europe is very diverse in terms of geography, natural and technological resources and infrastructure.

"This creates opportunities for member states and regions developing bioeconomy strategies and initiatives of their own that build on their individual strengths and resources, but also on public acceptance."

Another speaker, Lars Hansen, of Novozymes, which co-hosted the event, said a "post-petroleum" economy was at "the heart" of future growth.

But he cautioned that such "benefits" were unlikely unless sufficient investment was made in "new, green" emerging technologies

The event, 'Horizon 2020: the best approach for biobased industries,' was also organised by MEPs Maria da Graça Carvalho and Teresa Riera Madurell.