I wrote recently about the EU’s plans for “ILUC” – that is, taking account of “Indirect Land Use Change” when assessing the emissions savings achieved by biofuels. On June 19th, I attended a sandwich lunch organised by OxFam, where we debated the issue, and heard from the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food”, Olivier de Schutter.
There were serious concerns expressed about current proposals to change EU biofuel targets. There is increasing recognition that biofuels have serious problems which were not fully taken into account when the original plans were made. When I had a chance to make an intervention, I spoke as follows:
Thank you to the organisers for this event. There is a delicious irony in seeing two groups of environmentalists at each other’s’ throats, as they argue the priorities of preventing climate change as against feeding the world.
But I have some news which will be welcomed by both sides. I should like to remind colleagues that elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 have a dramatic effect in terms of increasing plant growth, and crop yields, and biomass formation. We should all celebrate that.
May I also respond to Mr. Bas Eickhout MEP, who speaks of the need to “send clear signals to investors”. He’s right. But we have signally failed to do that. Five years ago we set up incentives to reach a 10% target for biofuels, and we invited investors to come to the table. They did so, and invested hundreds of millions of euros, for example in dedicated refining facilities for bio-diesel and ethanol. Now we pull the rug from under them. Energy policy and investment is bedevilled by our failure to offer regulatory certainty.
My own position is that I would not want biofuels at all, but I shall support the report of my colleague Mr. Alejo Vidal Quadras MEP which represents a considerable improvement over the Commission proposal.
We now know very well that biofuels deliver less power, that they greatly increase cost, and that taking ILUC effects into account they often fail to deliver emissions savings, or even increase them. In this parliament only a couple of years ago we heard a consultant’s report showing that in the UK, by converting the Drax coal-fired power station to a bio-mass plant burning wood chips from mature American forests, we were failing to reduce emissions significantly, and indeed increasing them in the medium term.
Then today we hear from Mr. Schutter about the food impact of biofuels. If we take large acreages out of food production and use them for bio-fuels, we inevitably reduce food availability, and increase food prices. People will starve.
I believe that we in this parliament should accept a moral responsibility to those investors who followed our policy and built bio-fuel refineries. But we have an even greater moral obligation to the world’s hungry and poor. It’s about time we recognised that biofuels seemed to be a good idea when we first thought of them, but in fact they’re doing more harm than good.