Amid bad press on biofuels, EU mulls mandatory eco-certification

The European Commission is currently working on a directive which will require mandatory eco-certification for biofuels, partly in the context of growing concerns about the consequences of the current rush to biofuels worldwide. These fears are centered on rapid deforestation in countries like Brazil and Indonesia, rising cereal prices and abject working conditions at some plantations. The EU has set a target that 10 percent of transport fuels should be met by plant-based biofuels by 2020, making it almost inevitable that it will have to import some biofuels.

Doubts about biofuels were recently raised by Paul Crutzen, a Novel prize-winning chemist, who released a study suggesting that growing and burning many biofuels could actually raise rather than lower greenhouse gas emissions. Crutzen calculated that growing some of the most commonly used biofuel crops released around twice the amount of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide than previously thought – wiping out any benefits from not using fossil fuels and, worse, probably contributing to global warming. A recent OECD report has warned against rushing headlong into growing energy crops because they cause food shortages and damage biodiversity. There have been reports of workers being employed in slave-like conditions in some palm oil plantations in Malaysia and sugar cane plantations in Brazil.

In a forthcoming book entitled “La faim, la bagnole, le blé et nous” (Hunger, the car, wheat and us), French journalist Fabrice Nicolino paints a grim scenario of rich countries rushing headlong to exploit land for biofuel use without any thought for the consequences for third world countries. He cites the tortilla crisis in Mexico earlier this year as a example of rising food prices resulting from biofuel cultivation. He reports that some palm oil planations in Indonesia employ snipers to eliminate orangutans who stray into the plantations and recalls the uncomfortable fact that the grain needed to fill up one SUV tank is sufficient to feed one person for a whole year. There’s a good summary of all these arguments at the BBC’s Green Room.
The eco-certification – based on social, environmental and economic criteria – should be ratified by an upcoming EU directive on biofuels scheduled for the end of the year. NGOs have been lobbying for this certification for some time, and some are now calling for the abandon of the 10 percent target altogether.

via Le Monde


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