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Study: Biofuels mandate could increase EU CO2 emissions

Published 17 September 2012

European biofuel mandates are unlikely to deliver a significant reduction and could even increase greenhouse gas emissions unless land use factors are considered, says a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The ICCT report suggests that Brussels is on the right track with its new biofuels rules, leaked last week, in which the EU executive backtracked on its policy goal of a 5.75% share for biofuels in the transport sector’s renewable energy targets.

The ICCT paper claims that, if not revised to address indirect land-use change (ILUC) the renewable energy directive could be expected to deliver a carbon saving of only 4% compared to fossil fuels, with a 30% chance actually of causing a net emissions increase.

The implementation of indirect land use change factors is likely to significantly increase carbon savings from biofuel policy, it says.

Such factors would also allow Europe to meet the directive’s target for a minimum 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

All of the carbon savings from the policy are likely to come from use of bioethanol, since its main source – sugarcane – uses less land than biodiesels made from palm and vegetable oils.

Biodiesel from non-waste vegetable oil, the study says, is “likely to have a worse carbon footprint that fossil diesel“.

No basis for biodiesel

“Given that biodiesel production is also expected to be worse for a range of other environmental indicators (e.g. acidification, eutrophication, biodiversity) … than fossil diesel, there is no environmental basis for the EU to continue to support the supply of biodiesel … from non-waste vegetable oil.”

Under the leaked EU proposal, the EU executive will end all subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, a major blow to a sector worth an estimated €17 billion a year in Europe alone.

Angela Corbalan, EU media and communications officer for Oxfam, said her organisation viewed the leaked Commission proposal as a “step in the right direction.”

“If adopted”, she said in emailed comments, “it will send a strong signal that the Commission eventually wants to stop promoting the use of food for fuel and climate change damaging biofuels.”

A ‘crystal ball’ exercise

Rob Vierhout, secretary-general of ePure, a trade group representing the bioethanol industry, said he doubted the significance of ILUC factors in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t trust this science”, he said, adding that at this particular point in time no clear methodology exists: “It’s a crystal ball exercise. No one can give hard numbers on iLUC.”

Vierhout also condemned the Commission policy u-turn as “inconsistent policymaking”.

“We’ve invested billions of euros”, he said. “Now the Commission says they’re going to change the game.” ePure would put up a strong fight against the proposed law, he vowed.

The criticism echoes many others in a biofuel industry which argues that current modelling, such as that used in the ICCT study, is not robust enough for use in policymaking.

Food prices vs CO2 emissions

Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels campaigner for the Transport & Environment NGO, said that despite the Commission proposing to cut the use of crop-based biofuels, the bioethanol industry could benefit from the new law.

European demand for biodiesel exceeds bioethanol, as more European cars run on diesel but, while the proposed law would hit all crop-based fuels – including ethanol made from sugar cane – the market for fuels better in iLUC factors could increase.

“It will still be good for them because there will be an incentive to move towards biofuels with lower factors”, Urbancic said.

Land used to power European cars with biofuels for one year could produce enough wheat and  maize to feed 127 million people, said a study released by Oxfam ahead of the EU Energy Ministers’ meeting today (17 September).

“With the world’s poorest at greater risk of hunger as a result of spiralling food prices, the international agency is calling on the EU to rethink its dangerous love affair with biofuels”, read a statement accompanying the study.

Positions:

Biofuels are wreaking havoc on tight food markets and our forests, increasing hunger and accelerating climate change just so Europe can fuel its cars,” said Robbie Blake, the biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

“The EU needs to comprehensively close the carbon accounting loophole [from ILUC], otherwise biofuels will continue to expand agriculture for fuel at the expense of forests and natural habitats, and increase carbon emissions.” He continued: “After months of delay, the Commission has come up with a messy compromise that acknowledges that ILUC is extremely serious, but then fails to address it in all pieces of legislation. This proposal would see an increase in Europe’s biofuels made from food, when what we need at this time of food crisis is to stop burning them altogether.”

“Europe has helped spark a global rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits. Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers’ money down the drain, whilst depriving millions of people of food, land and water,” said Natalia Alonso, Head of Oxfam’s EU Office.

Study: Biofuels mandate could increase EU CO2 emissions | EurActiv.

Voodoo Environomics

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By H. Leighton Steward
Posted on Feb. 16, 2012

President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone Pipeline wasn’t, as he claimed, based on science or the environment. And it certainly wasn’t based on sound economic policy. The decision was, in fact, the product of Voodoo Environomics: a destructive blend of bad science based on fear-mongering and manipulated research with the bad economics of green job fantasies and “starve the beast” energy politics.

At the very heart of Voodoo Environomics is, of course, the much-hyped theory linking man-made CO2 and climate change. Without the world’s policy focus on CO2 emissions, climate change alarmists would be robbed of the ammunition they need to change and control human behavior via draconian energy policies. They’d also be robbed of the substantial financial support needed to continue their biased research.

When adopted as official government policy, Voodoo Environomics can wreak havoc on the economy and represents a double whammy for working Americans. The admitted goal of CO2-slashing schemes like Cap & Trade is to jack up the price of energies like gasoline and coal to make expensive alternative energies more financially competitive. Of course their proponents hope you don’t realize that it’s ordinary Americans who are stuck paying higher prices for utilities and gasoline.

But the hit working Americans take under Voodoo Environomics doesn’t end with higher utility bills and gas prices. In bowing to environmental extremists in rejecting the Keystone Pipeline project, Obama has abandoned working Americans… or should I say unemployed Americans in search of good jobs.

In fact, Obama managed the rare feat of uniting business and labor in crying foul over this senseless decision. Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers decries the loss of 20,000 direct jobs and another 118,000 spinoff jobs that would have resulted from Keystone. Standing next to him, Terry O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America said, “Blue collar construction workers across the U.S. will not forget this (decision).”

The application of Voodoo Environomics also puts style over substance. Obama’s rejection of Keystone won’t stop the extraction of oil from Canada’s oil sands – the primary objective behind the pressure to kill the project. Canada will proceed without pause in exploiting their oil sands, regardless of what American politicians or environmental extremists say or do.

Anti-Keystone activists also point to the need to protect the Ogallala Aquifer, which encompasses parts of eight states and underlies a portion of the proposed route of the Keystone pipeline. But reviews of the thousands and thousands of miles of oil and natural gas pipelines over the Ogallala, some of which have been transporting oil for more than a half a century, show no contamination of the aquifer.

What it does do is ensure that oil won’t be shipped and refined by Americans and will likely go to other nations, particularly China. This may sound like hyperbole, and I wish it were. But Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in lambasting Obama’s rejection of Keystone, said that Canada would look to China to sell their oil.

America’s energy insecurity is moving into a dangerous new phase while our economy remains anemic and unemployment systemic. Rather than strengthening America’s energy position with a close ally and neighbor like Canada, Obama has increased our dependence on energy supplies from less-friendly nations that ensure little or no environmental safeguards.

The negative impact of this decision doesn’t end there. America’s risk exposure to dangerous energy disruptions stemming from global hotspots just went up. Such disruptions, such as those that could result from a crisis such as one brewing in the Straits of Hormuz, would be personal disaster for working Americas and a significant national security crisis for America.

The phantom gains and real losses stemming from Voodoo Environomics are starting to be realized. America needs more opportunities, not lost opportunities. Unfortunately for working Americans, there’s a greater abundance of the latter.

H. Leighton Steward is a geologist, environmentalist, author, and retired energy industry executive. He currently chairs the organization Plants Need CO2.

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