German Environment Minister Calls Off Biofuel Plans | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.04.2008
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German Environment Minister Calls Off Biofuel Plans

German Environment Minister Gabriel said the country would be shelving plans to develop biofuels because they were not appropriate for millions of vehicles. Environmental protection groups supported the move.

Cars driving on a German highway

Gabriel wants to fight climate change without punishing motorists

"We will not do it," Gabriel, a Social Democrat, told the television channel ARD on Friday, April 4. "It is not a measure dealing with environmental policy, but a measure destined to aid the automobile industry."

The news dealt a blow to so-called green fuels, which have been seen as a way to reduce global warming by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Mixing plant-based ethanol with fossil gasoline can reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, one of several so-called greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate change.

But ecologists have complained about the practice not least because a number of countries destroy tropical rain forests in order to cultivate the plants used to make biofuels.

Damaging older cars

A woman gets unleaded fuel at a gas station

Drivers would pay the price, had the plans gone ahead

Germany had initially hailed biofuel blending as a way of achieving reductions in greenhouse gases without imposing restrictions proposed by the EU, which could hit the country's performance car industry.

The German E10 project was supposed to ensure that 10 percent of petrol used by cars and light trucks in Germany was comprised of ethanol by 2009.

The initiative formed the cornerstone of Berlin's ambitious climate change policy package laid out in 2007, designed to cut emissions 40 percent by 2020 at a cost of 3.3 billion euros ($5.2 billion).

But politicians and industry groups had criticized the plans to raise the level to 10 percent for some gasoline grades from 5 percent, saying that the increase would damage older cars because the biofuels were more corrosive than conventional petrol and threatened to wear out certain engine parts too quickly.

Meanwhile, Otmar Bernhard, Environment Minister in Bavaria from the conservative CSU party, called the blending plans "climate policy hot air."

Passing the buck

A row of Volkswagen buses

Old cars would be hardest hit

Gabriel said he would abandon the project if the number of vehicles that could not use the fuel surpassed 1 million.

On Friday he said the number had exceeded 3 million and that these cars were not ready for the new fuel and could be forced to switch to more expensive, unblended gasoline grades because of possible damage. Most of the cars in question are imported.

The environment minister said he feared the change could hit lower earners who generally own older cars.

"Our environmental policy does not want to be responsible for driving millions of car drivers ... to expensive super plus petrol pumps," he told the mass-circulation Bild tabloid.

Gabriel blamed the car industry for the switch in policy, saying it had revised its figures.

The German automakers association VDA had said Thursday that the number was much lower, at around 360,000, and that the jump in affected automobile was due to imported cars.

"The German automotive industry has done its homework and stuck to its word," VDA president Matthias Wissmann said.

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