Something to celebrate: an Orangutan swings through the jungle near Bukit Lawang in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: Nick Leonard via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Orangutans' reprieve: EuroParl votes to limit biofuels
28th April 2015
Rainforests around the world and the wildlife they sustain have a rosier future after the European Parliament voted to limit the growth of biofuels such as palm oil in the transport sector.
These fuels do more harm than good for people, the environment and the climate. The EU's long-awaited move to put the brakes on biofuels is a clear signal to the rest of the world that this is a false solution to the climate crisis.
The European Parliament has today agreed new EU laws to limit the use of crop-based biofuels - potentially saving thousands of endangered wildlife species in tropical rainforests around the world.
EU law makers ruled that biofuels can compete with food production, contribute to climate change, and put pressure on land use - and so have set a limit on the quantity of biofuels that can be used to meet EU energy targets of no more than 7% of transport energy.
The EU Commission has also stated that it intends to scrap all future targets and support for 'food based' biofuels after 2020, and future renewable energy targets for transport.
With Europe the world's biggest user and importer of biodiesel - from crops such as palm oil, soy and rapeseed - the vote will have a major impact around the world - notably in the EU's main supplier countries Indonesia, Malaysia and Argentina, where millions of hectares of carbon-rich, biodiverse forests are being destroyed to make way for biofuel plantations.
According to Robbie Blake, Friends of the Earth Europe's biofuels campaigner, the move signals the end to the expanding use of food crops for transport fuel: "Let no-one be in doubt, the biofuels bubble has burst.
"These fuels do more harm than good for people, the environment and the climate. The EU's long-awaited move to put the brakes on biofuels is a clear signal to the rest of the world that this is a false solution to the climate crisis. This must spark the end of burning food for fuel."
After ten years campaigning, the tide has turned
This decision brings to an end to ten years of debate in the EU over the highly damaging effects of biofuels production on food prices, hunger, forest destruction, land consumption - and climate change.
The expected 'business as usual scenario' was for biofuels of 8.6% of EU transport energy by 2020. Current usage is at 4.7%, having declined in 2013. And given that no minimum level of use has been set, biofuel consumption could now decline further.
The Commission and fuel suppliers must also report on the indirect greenhouse emissions released by expanding biofuels production, increasing the transparency of the impacts of biofuel use.
Member states should set a 0.5% 'non-binding target' to use so-called 'advanced' biofuels - such as those derived from straw, household waste, forest and agricultural residues. The Commission has also signalled that this should rise to 1.25% by 2020.
"The people of Indonesia will be relieved to hear that the EU has taken some action to limit Europe's demand for palm oil for biofuels, which has escalated deforestation, land grabbing, and conflicts in Indonesia", said Kurniawan Sabar, campaign manager for WALHI / Friends of the Earth Indonesia.
Now the challenge is Indonesia itself
Around the world, 64 countries have or are considering increasing the amount of biofuels used in transport fuel, including most recently Indonesia - itself the source of much of the world's supply from its ever-expanding palm oil sector.
The Indonesian government is currently planning to offer producers extra subsidies, and set a mandatory target of 15% biofuel blended into diesel fuel. WALHI is among the environmental groups that have criticised this decision as "a mistake".
"The Indonesian government should take note and abandon its own plans for new subsidies to expand biofuels plantations in Indonesian forests", commented Sabar.
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth International's food sovereignty coordinator, added: "The EU has had to backtrack on its harmful biofuels policy and this should be a lesson to other countries considering similar toxic targets for biofuels.
"While it has not gone far enough to stop the irresponsible use of food crops for car fuel, this new law acknowledges a reality that small scale food producers worldwide know - that biofuel crops cripple their ability to feed the world, and compete for the land that provides their livelihood, and for the water that sustains us. "
The production and consumption of biofuels grew dramatically from 2008-2009 when two EU directives - on Renewable Energy (RED) and Fuel Quality (FQD) - were adopted that included binding targets for 10% of transport energy to be derived from renewable energy by 2020.
Ironically, the laws were passed in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases as a response to climate change. But it is now clear that they have the opposite effect, driving deforestation that makes their indirect emissions many times greater than burning petroleum fuels - as well aswiping out countless wildlife species such as Orangutans.
Friends of the Earth is now calling on EU countries to phase out the use of food for biofuels completely - something they are allowed to do under the new law.
Source: Friends of the Earth International.
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