Food for fuel: European Parliament bows to biofuel lobby

Europe can continue burning food to fuel cars and trucks in the EU, the European Parliament voted today. In the vote on the reform of the Renewable Energy Directive for 2030, MEPs supported rules that would allow member states to force-feed car drivers with biofuels made from food-crops at current levels until 2030.

Reacting to the news, Oxfam’s EU Economic Justice Policy Lead, Marc-Olivier Herman, said:

“The European Parliament has been steamrollered by the powerful biofuel lobby into abandoning reforms that aim to stop burning food for fuel.

“The biofuels that the EU is now supporting are actually causing higher greenhouse gas emissions while also risking higher food prices. The EU’s determination to pursue biofuels made from food and feed crops is pushing local farmers and people off their land in countries like Peru, Tanzania and Indonesia.

“MEPs and EU governments still have a chance to turn things around when they negotiate the final legislation. A strict ‘no food for fuel’ rule is the only credible way forward for the EU’s renewable energy policy if it is to stop dangerous climate change and end the devastating effects of the EU’s current bioenergy policy on people’s livelihoods.” 

Notes to editors: 
  • Oxfam's climate and energy expert Marc-Olivier Herman is available in Brussels for interviews and background information.
  • The European Parliament today failed to endorse a complete phase out of the use of food and feed crops for biofuels under the Renewable Energy Directive for the period 2021-2030 (REDII).
  • Specifically, the text of the Renewable Energy Directive adopted by the European Parliament today includes the following provisions on biofuels:
    • A new binding 12% target for renewable energy in transport by 2030 is introduced, accompanied by mandates imposed on fuel providers. The share of biofuels in transport in the EU was 4,2% in 2015.
    • Member States will be allowed to promote biofuels made from food or feed crops, except for palm oil, until 2030. They can count this towards their renewable energy targets, up to their 2017 consumption level with a maximum of 7% of energy consumed in transport. Member states that currently use food or feed crops in transport to a level below 2% will be allowed to increase their consumption to a maximum 2%.
    • The mandates also include a binding target of 3,6% of so-called ‘advanced’ biofuels made from certain feedstocks.
    • The European Parliament has voted to exclude biodiesel made from palm oil to meet the EU target for renewable energy in transport, while still allowing the use of biofuels made from other food crops, which are equally harmful for the climate, food security and the environment.
    • This measure is also likely to be ineffective as demand for palm oil for food, cosmetics and other products will continue to increase in order to substitute for other vegetable oils diverted to EU biodiesel production.
    • Scrapping the target to fuel 12% of transport with so-called renewables and ruling out the use of all biofuels made from food and feed crops is the only way to ensure the sustainability of EU policy.
  • In October, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee had improved the European Commission’s proposal for REDII by suggesting the phase-out of biofuels made from food crops by 2030. The environment committee was leading on the bioenergy sustainability provisions of the reform. It is an unusual move for the Parliament’s plenary to overturn the proposals of a lead committee as it has done today.
  • In November, the industry committee of the European Parliament voted to reinstate a ‘renewable’ energy target for transport in 2030. Oxfam and environmental NGO Transport & Environment said such a target would continue subsidising the use of high-emitting, food-based biofuels.
  • European energy ministers adopted their position on RED II in December 2017, agreeing on the reintroduction of a binding target for renewable energy in the transport sector requiring EU member states to reach 14% by 2030 through mandates imposed on fuel suppliers.
  • The Parliament and member states will now enter into negotiations to agree on the final text of RED II with the support of the European Commissions. These ‘trilogues’ will start in the coming weeks.
  • Read a briefing by Oxfam and five other NGOs summarising what is at stake with the EU’s bioenergy reform: “Bioenergy laid bare: fuelling climate change, fuelling hunger
  • MEPs have been under intense pressure of the biofuel lobby and its allies. In 2015, European biofuel producers alone spent as much on EU lobbying as the tobacco lobby, reporting spending between €3.7m and €5.7m. Oxfam’s report ‘Burning land, burning the climate – The biofuel industry capture of EU bioenergy policy’ sheds light on the trail of destruction left across the globe by the current EU biofuel policy. The report also documents the outsized influencing ‘fire power’ of the EU biofuel industry which has benefited from the policy.
Contact information: 

Florian Oel | Brussels | florian.oel@oxfam.org | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

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