Europe can cut import dependence and food prices by ditching biofuels mandates

If Europe were to rule out its support of biofuels by 2020, the region could lower its net imports of grain and oilseeds by up to 27 million tons, remarkably reducing its dependence on foreign goods. Global food prices could also drop significantly.

These are the main findings of a new report by Oxfam and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Biofuels: Effects on Global Agricultural Prices and Climate Change, released ahead of tomorrow’s crucial EU Energy Ministers’ meeting in Brussels where a decision on the reform of EU biofuels policy is expected.

“Fixing the EU’s misguided biofuel policy is long overdue. Political support for biofuels made from crops such as grain or oilseeds should run out over the next years”, explains the author of the study, Prof. Dr. Herald Grete of the University of Hohenheim.

If the EU were to drop its current biofuel policy by 2020, the global prices of plant oils would drop by 16 percent. It would also see oilseed prices fall by around 10 percent, with wheat prices also decreasing by about 4 percent.

“Less biofuels would mean more food security. Cutting down the cost of basic foodstuffs would certainly help those living in poverty“, explains Marita Wiggerthale, agricultural expert with Oxfam. “The German Federal Government must set an example at the EU Energy Ministers meeting later this week and push to limit crop-based biofuels to five percent“, she says.

“If the EU continues to support biofuels, we’ll be importing 85 percent of the resources required for biofuels production in the future. This would mean a huge increase in import dependency“, says Christine Chemnitz, adviser for international agricultural policy at the Heinrich Boll Foundation.

In relation to climate change, the report issues a scathing assessment of both biofuels and the related European policy: “The main argument for biofuels, namely their attractiveness as  a low-carbon and thus more climate friendly alternative to fossil fuels, is simply not right if we include the indirect land use change factors,“ says Christine Chemnitz.

Notes aux rédactions

The European Commission proposed in October 2012 that only half of the 10 percent target for renewable energy in the transport sector should come from crop-based biofuels. This was followed by a vote in the European Parliament in September this year which said that this cap should be raised to 6 percent. According to the Parliament vote, the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) should only be considered in calculations of greenhouse gas emissions from 2020. It is now up to EU Member States to come up with their common position. The EU Energy Ministers meeting this Thursday is crucial.

What is Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC)?
Land which could be used to grow food is now used to grow fuel. Extra land is therefore needed to grow food –land that is usually found in tropical regions where pristine forests teeming with plant and animal life are cut down to make way for agriculture. This land clearing reduces the ‘carbon sinks’ (the trees and vegetation that absorb CO2) and pumps vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, negating the intended aim of the EU biofuels policy.

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Angela Corbalan on + 32 (0) 473 56 22 60 or angela.corbalan@oxfaminternational.org