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Europe's push on biofuels 'no better than fossil fuels'

Tom Levitt

8th November,2010

Targets for increasing the use of biofuels to power cars, trains and buses will result in more ecosystems being converted to agriculture - actually increasing carbon emissions, says new report

European plans to massively increase the use of biofuels by 2020 will result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, argues a new study.

The EU has a target for 10 per cent of total transport fuel to be derived from renewable sources, including biofuels by 2020. The study estimates that 92 per cent of these fuels will come from food crops, such as oil seeds, palm oil, sugar cane, beet and wheat.

The study, produced by a coalition of environmental groups, estimates it will require an extra 69,000 km square of new agricultural land - an area the size of the Republic of Ireland and that forests, grasslands, peatlands and other natural ecosystems will be converted into crop fields to meet the demand.

Once the impact of this change in land use and resulting release of carbon emissions is taken into account, overall greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels could end up being 81 to 167 per cent worse than fossil fuels. Under EU plans they were required to be between 35 and 50 per cent less polluting than fossil fuels but could now end up resulting in 56 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide every year.

Germany, UK, France, Spain and Italy are expected to account for the vast majority of the increase in demand for biofuels between now and 2020. On average, they are expecting to import half of the bioethanol and 40 per cent of the biodiesel they require.

In the case of the UK, meeting the biofuels targets will mean overall carbon emissions from transport will increase by more than 10 per cent.

'The scale of the damage that European countries will cause with their biofuels plans is now clear – forests and nature will be destroyed on a shocking scale to fuel our cars. The resulting release of climate-damaging greenhouse gases will make biofuels a worse polluter than fossil fuels,' said Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth Europe.

The EU Commission is currently reviewing how it can reduce the impact of biofuels policies and is expected to announce its plans by the end of this year.

A coalition of groups including Birdlife International, the European Environment Bureau and Friends of the Earth are calling on the EU to factor in emissions from land use change in assessments of biofuels. They say that until indirect land use change is fully taken into account, Europe will continue to subsidise an alternative energy that is no better than the fossil fuels it is designed to replace.

Read the full study here

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