EU Rethinks Biofuels Targets As Criticism Mounts | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.01.2008
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EU Rethinks Biofuels Targets As Criticism Mounts

The EU has admitted that it failed to foresee problems raised by its policy to encourage motorists in Europe to drive vehicles which run on fuels derived from plants as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions.

A car drives along a rapeseed field

The EU's embrace of biofuels has come in for criticism

The European Union's environment chief said the bloc would rethink new draft rules on boosting the production of biofuels amid growing criticism by green campaign groups that the move could lead to rainforest destruction and social dislocation.

"We have seen that the environmental problems caused by biofuels and also the social problems are bigger than we thought they were. So we have to move very carefully," Stavros Dimas told the BBC on Monday, Jan. 14.

It would be better to miss the target than achieve it by harming the poor or damaging the environment, Dimas said.

EU European Commissioner Stavros Dimas

Dimas has admitted there are problems with the EU's biofuels policy

In March last year, EU leaders agreed that 10 percent of the bloc's road fuels should come from biofuels by 2020 as part of wider efforts to combat climate change and slash CO2 emissions. That goal was to be anchored in concrete legislation.

Too many negative consequences?

But criticism has grown steadily in past months about the negative impact of large-scale production of biofuels.

Critics have warned that expanding the growth of agricultural products such as corn, soybeans and rapeseed to make biofuels can lead to environmental damage, drive up food prices and lead companies to drive poor people off their land to convert it to fuel crops.

Last week, a group of 17 non-governmental organizations sent a letter to EU Energy Commissioner Andreas Piebalgs urging him to introduce tougher standards for biofuel production or to give up the planned biofuel targets.

They argued that the EU's draft legislation does not provide protection for important ecosystems, such as savannas or permanent grasslands "that may be threatened by expanding agriculture to meet the EU's biofuel target."

A coca plantation in Peru

Critics fear that biofuels is leading to loss of forest cover in some countries

"Destruction of these carbon sinks would lead to large emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, thereby reducing or neutralizing the benefits from growing biofuels. Neither does the draft text provide any safeguards to protect water and soil resources," the letter said.

Last September, the EU's biofuel targets were sharply criticized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group made up of the world's 30 most developed countries.

The Paris-based OECD said that state subsidies for biofuels would distort food prices and damage natural habitats while its impacts on combating climate change may be limited.

Guidelines may be altered

Dimas has said it's vital for the EU's rules to prevent the loss of biodiversity, suggesting that the draft legislation could be altered.

"We have to have criteria for sustainability, including social and environmental issues, because there are some benefits from biofuels," he added.

Dimas said the EU would introduce a certification scheme for biofuels and vowed to clamp down on biodiesel from palm oil, which is believed to be causing widespread forest destruction in Indonesia.

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