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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 29th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

Biofuels targets too much too soon for Ireland, writes   LEIGH PHILLIPS for EUobserver. Electric cars are slowing winning favour in the council.     28.07.2008
Gently squeezing the brakes on biofuels policy is the growing consensus amongst European diplomats regarding the controversial energy source, with Ireland the latest member state to pull back from short-term targets on its use in transport fuel.

While not wanting to abandon the mid-term goal of 10 percent use of biofuels by 2020, the Irish energy minister is now pushing for an abandonment of the already agreed EU biofuels target of 5.75 percent of what fills the tanks of cars and lorries by 2010.

In an interview with the Irish Times, energy minister Eamon Ryan said that his government has dropped the earlier target in the wake of a slew of reports released in the last six months that have shown strong links between EU and US biofuels policies and increased greenhouse gas emissions and skyrocketing food prices.

“There’s been an avalanche of these reports, but it was the [UK Renewable Fuel Agency’s] Gallagher Report that in particular had an impact on our thinking,” an Irish official told the EUobserver.

“[Minister Ryan] still believes in the 2020 target, and that should still be the main goal – it doesn’t make sense to tear that apart, but as far as the 2010 interim target, it’s too much too soon.

“The minister thinks it’s overly ambitions and that we need to slow down.”

Earlier this month, the UK Renewable Fuels Agency issued a report recognising the negative impact of biofuels on greenhouse gas emissions and food prices as a result of indirect land-use changes, arguing for an avoidance of the use of productive agricultural land in favour of idle or marginal land, and an emphasis on so-called second-generation biofuels – such as the use of agricultural residues, algae, forest waste or timber industry left-overs – which do not compete with food production.

Two-stage approach:

The Gallagher report has convinced Ireland that biofuels do indeed have an indirect result on land-use changes that result in increased greenhouse gas emissions. Such changes occur when the agricultural land used to grow biofuel crops displaces land otherwise used to grow food or feed. Those crops still need to be grown, resulting in grasslands, forests or peat bogs mowed up or even burnt to open up land for the displaced food or feed crops.

“The minister is a big supporter of including indirect land-use change [considerations] in the development of sustainability criteria for biofuels,” said the official.

The report did not however argue for a wholesale abandonment of biofuels or even the dropping of the EU’s 2020 target, but rather to apply the brakes on their development until sustainability can be assured.

The UK government immediately embraced the report’s findings and is pushing for an evolution of the EU biofuels strategies in line with its conclusions.

Member states are essentially now agreed that there be a two-stage approach to biofuels for transport.

First, any biofuels used must deliver a 35 percent savings in greenhouse gas emissions on what would be emitted by fossil fuels.

Secondly, following an interim review of the effects of biofuels conducted by the European Commission, there would be a move to a demand that biofuels deliver a 50 percent savings on fossil fuels, so long as the commission review found such a move appropriate.

There is however division over the date of the move from the first to the second step, with some eastern member states feeling that 2015, mooted by other member states, as too early. A compromise date of 2018 for the switch from 35 percent to 50 is “very likely” said the Irish official.

Electric cars on their way:

“We’re very happy with the way the discussion is moving in the council,” the official said.

“We’ll also see more of an emphasis on the development of electric cars, perhaps with some sort of credit for their use,” added the official, underscoring that the 2020 is for ten percent of transport fuel to come from renewable energy sources, which does not necessarily mean biofuels.

Denmark has put a proposal before the council to give a triple bonus to all electric cars within the 10 percent renewable energy for transport target, a proposal which has been well received.

On Sunday at the British International Motor Show, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised €114 million ( £90 million) in government money to make Britain “the European capital for electric cars”.

The moves in the council are still more conservative on the issue than where the discussion is at in the European Parliament.

“There is a good mood to strengthen the sustainability criteria within the parliament, from members of all parties, [to achieve a greenhouse gas savings of] between 45 percent and 50 percent immediately,” Luxemburg Green MEP Claude Turmes told the EUobserver.

The deputy, who is in charge of shepherding the directive on the use of energy from renewable sources through the parliament added that MEPs in the environment committee support an increase to 60 percent savings on their fossil-fuel equivalents in a second stage beginning in 2015, not 2018.

“Why should we be less ambitious if almost all the biofuel industry already is claiming that they can achieve a 50 percent or greater savings today?” he asked.

Mr Turmes also welcomed the moves towards electric cars, noting that the use of biomass to produce electricity to run a car is three to five times more efficient that turning biomass directly into a fuel for a car.

However, he warned: “But we must make sure that this is electricity from genuinely
renewable sources, not coal-based or nuclear energy.”

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We, at www.SustainabiliTank.info are flabbergasted – this was said to me by Mr. Herman Kahn, the genius of the Hudson Institute, already 35 years ago. I was talking to him of ethanol from corn and he said – why not burn the whole plant and go for the maximum energy output?  

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