European Commission proposal on biofuels shortchanges the poor and the climate

Published: 17th October 2012

Today’s proposal by the European Commission to cap support for biofuels made from food crops at 5% of the demand for energy in transport sends a welcome but long overdue message to markets that all out European support for putting food into fuel tanks is something of the past.

However, the suggested changes to the current EU legislation fall far short of what is needed to address the flaws of a policy that is fuelling hunger and land grabs around the world and creating a market for supposedly green fuels, which are in reality more polluting than fossil fuels.

“The proposed cap is higher than the current level of consumption of first generation biofuels in Europe. With close to 900 million people suffering hunger in the world what is needed is a rapid phase out of these biofuels.” said Marc Olivier Herman, Oxfam’s EU biofuels expert.

“Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the displacement of agriculture on to forested land and carbon sinks remain unaccounted for. This means the EU will continue to support biofuels that are more polluting than fossil fuels, such as biodiesel made from palm oil, soybeans or rapeseed. The Commission has totally given in to the biofuels industry, which is holding on very hard to the cup of gold of subsidised food-based biofuels” said Herman.

Oxfam calls the members of the European Parliament and Member States to put the interests of the people and the planet first. The Commission’s proposal must be amended to phase out all support for biofuels competing with food for crops, land and water.

Notes to editors

  • The legislative proposal adopted today by the European Commission seeks to amend two directives promoting the use of biofuels in the EU: the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) of 2009, which sets a binding target of 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020, and the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) of 2008 which obliges fuel providers to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels by 6% by 2020. The Commission´s proposal introduces a 5% cap on biofuels made from food crops when determining progress toward the 2020 target and a reporting obligation on emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC). However, these ILUC emissions are not taken into account when determining whether biofuels meet minimum greenhouse gas saving thresholds. The proposal will now be examined by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
  • The EU’s biofuels policy alone could push up oilseed prices by up to 33%, maize by up to 22%, sugar by up to 21% and wheat by up to 10%, between now and 2020 (IIEP)
  • 60% of global land deals in the last decade have been to grow crops that can be used for biofuels (Oxfam)
  • If the land used to produce biofuels for the EU in 2008 (when biofuels accounted for 3.5% of transport fuel in the EU) had been used to produce wheat and maize instead, it could have fed 127 million people for the entire year (Oxfam).
  • Biofuels are driving the expansion of agriculture into natural carbon sinks such as wetlands and rainforests resulting in huge carbon emissions that will take decades if not centuries of biofuel use to repay. This process is known as indirect land use change (ILUC). ILUC caused by biofuels could generate greenhouse gas emissions between 27-56 million tonnes of extra CO2 per year by 2020 which represents 12-25 million more cars on European roads (Institute of European Environmental Policy).
  • Modelling based on current plans for sourcing biofuels suggests that, by 2020, this policy could cost UK consumers between £1bn and £1.9bn more per year, that’s about £35 from every adult, and German consumers between €1.37bn and €2.15bn more, up to €30 per adult.(IISD)

Read The Hunger Grains, Oxfam’s report on the impacts of the EU’s biofuels policy on food prices and land rights.

Contact information

For more information, please contact Gaëlle Bausson on +32 (0)473 562 260 or