It has proved to be a remedy worse than the disease, or something close to that.
The only good thing about the European Union (EU) directive on biofuel is that the officialdom acknowledges that the ten per cent target was misplaced and the move might itself be contributing to environmental damage.
AdvertisementEU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has said it would be better to miss the target than achieve it by harming the poor or damaging the environment.
It was in March last that the EU leaders agreed to set a binding climate change target to make biofuel - energy sources made from plant material - account for 10 per cent of all Europe's transport fuels by 2020.
But the very next month the European Commission admitted that the objective, which aimed to cut carbon dioxide emissions, might have the unintended consequence of speeding up the destruction of tropical rainforests and peatlands in South-East Asia - actually increasing, not reducing, global warming.
"Climate change and biodiversity loss are among our most pressing challenges," said
John Hontelez, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, a non-profit organization at a conference in June.
"We must urgently reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. But we must tackle climate change and biodiversity loss in tandem. Biofuels are only part of the solution. Unless we produce biofuels sustainably, we'll end up with more energy-intensive and environmentally damaging farming practices and hasten the degradation of our ecosystems."
Ariel Brunner, Policy Officer at BirdLife International, said "Europe must act now or
biofuels could spell disaster for biodiversity worldwide. Already we are seeing European
wildlife affected by biofuel production. The little bustard in France and the red kite in
Germany are both examples of species being put in danger by the unmanaged
conversion of land into biofuels production. The problems get even more serious when
we consider the prospect of imports that are produced at the expense of the rainforest."
Aat Peterse, Policy Officer at Transport and Environment (T&E) said, "For transport,
improving energy efficiency of vehicles should be the first priority. If biofuels are to be
part of the energy solution, the EU must ensure that those produced by clearing
rainforests and protected habitats will never be sold in Europe."
With recent reports confirming apprehensions of rise in food prices and rainforest destruction, the EU has promised new guidelines to ensure that its target is not damaging.
A couple of years ago biofuels looked like the perfect get-out-of-jail free card for car manufacturers under pressure to cut carbon emissions.
Instead of just revolutionising car design, they could reduce transport pollution overall if drivers used more fuel from plants which would have soaked up CO2 while they were growing.
The EU leapt at the idea - and set their biofuels targets.
But since then reports have warned that some biofuels barely cut emissions at all - and others can lead to rainforest destruction, drive up food prices, or prompt rich firms to drive poor people off their land to convert it to fuel crops.
"We have seen that the environmental problems caused by biofuels and also the social problems are bigger than we thought they were. So we have to move very carefully," EU's Dimas told the BBC.
"We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from biofuels."
He said the EU would introduce a certification scheme for biofuels and promised a clampdown on biodiesel from palm oil which is leading to forest destruction in Indonesia.
Some analysts doubt that "sustainable" palm oil exists because any palm oil used for fuel simply swells the demand for the product oil on the global market which is mainly governed by food firms.
Dimas said it was vital for the EU's rules to prevent the loss of biodiversity which he described as the other great problem for the planet, along with climate change.
On Monday, the Royal Society, the UK's academy of science, is publishing a major review of biofuels. It is expected to call on the EU to make sure its guidelines guarantee that all biofuels in Europe genuinely save carbon emissions.
In the US, the government has just passed a new energy bill mandating a major increase in fuel from corn, which is deemed by some analysts to be useless in combating rising carbon dioxide emissions.
The bill also foresees a huge expansion in fuel from woody plants but the technology for this is not yet proven.
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