This week the European Commission is discussing the future direction of its flagship biofuel policy, in particular how the science of land use change could affect the methodology approved for calculating GHG savings. The talks come as NGOs are increasingly warning that the EU’s biofuel policy could defeat its environmental aims.
One of the key questions underlying the whole land use and biofuel debate is how much biofuel demand is increasing feedstock production (particularly corn and soybeans), and, in turn, what direct and indirect effects this increased agricultural production is having elsewhere. However, it may not be so straightforward as some people are upbeat about the ability of yield increases to keep pace with increasing demand: Increased Corn Production Resulting From Intensity Not Acreage Expansion.
Whatever the outcome of this week’s discussion in Brussels, it is vital that the resulting policy is based on sound science (and not false accounting). But, at the same time it must not through the baby out with the bath water. Some of the methodology for calculating GHG savings from bioenergy do need improvement, but throwing them out when they still provide significant improvements over other forms of fossil energy is madness. Perfection must not become the enemy of the good.
EurActiv has reported a recent study under the headline: EU report questions conventional biofuels’ sustainability. However, reading the first two paragraphs of the article shows just how misleading it is:
“The study ‘EU Transport GHG [greenhouse gases]: Routes to 2050’ estimates that before indirect effects are counted, the abatement cost of reducing Europe’s emissions with biofuels is between €100-€300 per tonne of carbon.
“At current market prices, this would make their CO2 reduction potential up to 49 times more expensive than buying carbon credits on the open market at €6.14 a tonne.”
What has the price of carbon credits got to do with whether the GHG savings of biofuels are a genuine improvement on the alternatives? In the last two years, EU ETS credits have reached nearly €20/tonne. Any buying carbon credits doesn’t mean you are reducing your GHG emissions, just that someone in the chain is paying an awful lot to produce them!