EU biofuel (agrofuel) target

May, 2011

By 2020 each European country should be using 10% biofuel in transport. This target is mainly to provide stability for commercial investment in biofuels. Even though many EU countries are not building up to the implementation of the target as quickly as expected, it is already causing serious damage to ecosystems, biodiversity, food production and communities in the global south. Yet many people in the UK and other EU countries are not aware that every time they fill up their cars with petrol, they are burning biofuel. Setting the EU biofuel target was a mistake and it should be dropped.

Call for a moratorium on biofuel imports, targets and incentives

At the end of 2006, EcoNexus, with Corporate Europe Observatory and Grupo Reflexion Rural, Argentina, wrote to MEPs in the European Parliament, calling on them to oppose the setting of an EU target for biofuels because of the serious impacts we believed this would have on ecosystems, biodiversity, communities and land. We also informed groups in the global south of the plans to set a target and asked them to respond. We then established a call for a moratorium on biofuel imports, targets and incentives. Many groups and individuals responded. However, during 2007, the EU adopted a target of 10% biofuels by 2020 for every EU country. The target was explicitly designed to provide stability for commercial investment in biofuels. Only then did the EU begin to develop sustainability criteria for biofuels. But:

  • The signal sent out by the target is more powerful than the impact of sustainability criteria.
  • The criteria do not address social impacts, and it is not clear how they can be effectively monitored and verified.
  • The impacts of indirect land-use change are not taken into account, yet they may be roughly equivalent to the area of Belgium and the Republic of Ireland in size.

Biofuel in the UK

Now everyone who buys petrol at the pump in the UK is burning biofuel. The level is currently 3.5%, derived from crops such as soy, palm oil and sugarcane, and 80% of this is imported. Most biofuel imported from Argentina is derived from genetically modified soya, production of which has had a serious impact on food production, small farmers and local communities. Many people are still not aware they are using biofuel. And in any case, they were not consulted and they have no choice. Yet it is now well-documented that:

  • Biofuels are having serious impacts on livelihoods, land and biodiversity
  • Biofuels are wrongly treated as carbon neutral
  • They are a distraction from the real priority, which is for the EU to reduce its energy consumption.

The EU biofuels target is stimulating investment in biofuel production for export to Europe from the global south. Biofuel production is competing with food production for access to land and local communities are suffering. We should cancel the EU biofuel target, not simply fail to meet it. Removing the target and changing the EU Renewable Energy Directive would be a major undertaking strongly opposed by business and politicians may be unwilling to engage. Public pressure for change is therefore essential.