* U-turn follows concerns that some biofuels harm climate
* Industry says limit on crop-based fuels is too low
* More votes to follow; divisions still deep
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, July 11 EU politicians on Thursday
backed a new limit on crop-based biofuels, to fix the bloc's
policy on transport fuels once thought to protect the climate
but now suspected of doing more harm than conventional oil.
The vote in the European Parliament's environment committee
will be followed by a plenary vote later this year and will also
require endorsement by member states, who are deeply divided on
Environmental campaigners said Thursday's vote marked
progress towards more sustainable biofuels.
Biofuel producers and their suppliers are furious at the
policy u-turn, and said the proposed limit of 5.5 percent of
total transport fuel use was far too low and would lead to plant
closures and job losses.
"Biofuels were part of the solution less than five years ago
and are now seen as a problem. The industry will stop investing
in advanced biofuels if the EU keeps sending conflicting
signals," said Nathalie Lecocq, Secretary General of FEDIOL, the
EU vegetable oil industry body which supplies the raw material
In 2008, an EU target was introduced to get 10 percent of
transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, most of which
would come from so-called first generation biofuels made from
sugar, cereals and oilseeds.
Since then, a series of studies has underlined the potential
environmental damage caused by some biofuels, particularly
biodiesel, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the
estimated 13 billion euro ($16.71 billion) EU biofuel sector.
Most recently, a study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) -
the Commission's in-house research body - confirmed the findings
of earlier EU studies that biodiesel made from crops such as
rapeseed does more harm to the climate than conventional diesel.
Emissions from one litre of biodiesel made from imported soy
are equivalent to burning up to two litres of diesel from fossil
fuel, its data analysis found.
Other biofuels are much less problematic, according to the
Fuels made from cereals and sugar crops have much lower
carbon emissions than those from vegetable oils such as rapeseed
oil, palm oil from Malaysia or soyoil from the Americas.
The reason some first-generation biofuels are considered a
problem is that they increase demand for crops, displacing food
production into new areas and forcing forest clearance and
draining of peatland. They can also add to food price inflation.
The displacement of land is known as ILUC (indirect land-use
change) and can result in enough carbon emissions to cancel out
any theoretical savings from biofuels.
The Commission proposal includes ILUC factors to estimate
the indirect emissions of biofuels made from cereals, sugars and
oilseeds, but they carry no legal weight.
The environment committee proposal makes them binding from
Committee members also voted for extra incentives to promote
the use of so-called advanced or second-generation biofuels made
from waste or agricultural residues rather than food crops, seen
as the most sustainable type of fuel but still at an early stage
"This vote will pave the way for truly sustainable transport
fuels, which actually reduce emissions, as of 2020," Nusa
Urbancic, a manager at campaign group T&E.
($1 = 0.7778 euros)
(Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Jeff