Sun Apr 13th, 2008 at 03:21:53 AM EST
Bullish talk yesterday in Slovenia from German Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel:
ENN: EU can hit biofuels goal without conflicts: Germany
BRDO, Slovenia (Reuters) - The European Union can achieve its 2020 target to get 10 percent of all transport fuel from biofuels without adding to soaring food prices and harming rainforests, Germany's environment minister said on Saturday.
"We can meet the 10 percent target through biofuel production in the European Union (and imports of) raw materials, which do not lead to a conflict with food or rainforests," Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on the fringes of a meeting of EU environment ministers in Slovenia.
Apparently Sigmar Gabriel has a line on mysterious "imports of raw materials" that would not concern oil-palm or sugarcane plantations on cleared rainforest land. Even supposing such materials exist and could be marketed, transported, and brought online, the fact that this is, yet again, reliance on mining the outside world to provide energy to keep cars and trucks running -- the periphery feeding the core -- escapes an environment minister. The fact that the price of such materials would necessarily follow the oil price curve, and that imports are no solution to Europe's energy dependence, also escapes him. Never mind, he's bullish all the same.
Not so the European Environment Agency.
ENVIRONMENT: Scientists Ask EU to Drop Biofuel Targets
BRUSSELS, Apr 12 (IPS) - Scientists tasked with advising the European Union's policy-makers have called for a target on promoting the greater use of biofuels to be dropped.
As part of a battery of measures officially aimed at addressing climate change, the EU's governments agreed in 2006 that 10 percent of the bloc's transport needs should derive from agricultural crops by 2020.
In a new paper, the European Environment Agency's scientific committee describes the goal as "overambitious" and recommends it should be suspended until a comprehensive study on the pros and cons of biofuels is completed.
According to the paper, meeting the 10 percent objective will necessitate large-scale import of biofuels from outside the EU. With the growing production of biofuels such as palm oil already accelerating deforestation in poor countries, the scientists argue that it will be difficult to monitor whether crops destined for use in European vehicles are being cultivated in an ecologically sustainable manner.
They also suggest that the production and use of biofuels may not lead to major cuts in the emissions of carbon dioxide, the main substance triggering global warming, when compared to conventional petrol or diesel. They express concern that an upsurge in biofuel production will put increasing pressure on water, soil, flora and fauna. And they query if the EU's target is realistic, given that a previous one -- set in 2003 -- of ensuring that biofuels comprise 2 percent of transport fuels by 2005 was not attained.
The EEA's conclusions are summarised on its site:
Suspend 10 percent biofuels target, says EEA's scientific advisory body - Highlights --
* Biofuel production based on first generation technologies does not optimally use biomass resources with regard to fossil energy saving and to greenhouse gas reduction. Technologies for direct heat and electricity generation should be preferred because they are more economically competitive and more environmentally effective than biofuel production for vehicles.
* Biomass utilisation implies combustion of very valuable and finite resources from our living environment. These resources ought to be preserved wherever possible. Therefore biomass utilisation must necessarily go hand in hand with energy efficiency improvements. This is not yet the case for the majority of applications in the automotive and residential sectors.
* The EEA has estimated the amount of available arable land for bioenergy production without harming the environment in the EU (EEA Report No 7/2006). In the view of the EEA Scientific Committee the land required to meet the 10% target exceeds this available land area even if a considerable contribution of second generation fuels is assumed. The consequences of the intensification of biofuel production are thus increasing pressures on soil, water and biodiversity.
* The 10 % target will require large amounts of additional imports of biofuels. The accelerated destruction of rain forests due to increasing biofuel production can already be witnessed in some developing countries. Sustainable production outside Europe is difficult to achieve and to monitor.
The EEA seems largely to agree with our own conclusions two years ago regarding land use (see also, more recently, Luis de Souza's diary and mine). But note the clause I have bolded in the EEA summary: their calculations include the potential contribution of second-generation (cellulosic) biofuels, which are not produced from food crops. And their recommendation is clear:
The overambitious 10 % biofuel target is an experiment, whose unintended effects are difficult to predict and difficult to control. Therefore the Scientific Committee recommends suspending the 10 % goal; carrying out a new, comprehensive scientific study on the environmental risks and benefits of biofuels; and setting a new and more moderate long-term target, if sustainability cannot be guaranteed.
The EEA is the second scientific body to question the EU's biofuels target this year:
ENVIRONMENT: Scientists Ask EU to Drop Biofuel Targets
In January, a leaked paper from scientists in the European Commission's Joint Research Centre said that the costs of reaching the goal will "almost certainly outweigh the benefits." The JRC called into question the EU's decision to focus its target on transport, contending that it would be more efficient to use agricultural resources for generating electricity than as biofuels.
Personally, I think agricultural resources should be used for food; but the dash to pump liquid fuels into motor vehicles by transforming biomass is beginning to look more and more desperate.
[editor's note, by Migeru] This article is part of the Biofuels series.