UPDATE: Biofuel vote in the European Parliament

Publish date: September 11, 2013

The European Parliament today (11 September) voted in favour of the draft report by liberal MEP Corinne Lepage on updating the EU’s biofuel policy. The report was touted as a compromise between the issue’s disparate views, ranging largely from the left to the right in the Parliament.

The endorsed report includes a proposal to measure the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from indirect land use change (ILUC) from 2020. The Parliament’s environment committee initially wanted ILUC factors to be included in both the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Inclusion in the RED amendment would require Member States to achieve their renewable energy targets using only fuels proven to have a low ILUC impact, and to do so within two or three years. The vote, however, only favoured ILUC inclusion in the FQD, and ILUC is therefore set to only be considered as of 2020.

Campaigning groups have been clear about the negative effects of ILUC, often resulting directly from the EU’s biofuels policy. But industry has been equally vocal in its skepticism of ILUC methodologies’ soundness, calling for further studies before binding policies are made.

The plenary vote also endorsed a 6 % limit on first generation (i.e. crop based) biofuels counting toward the EU’s 2020 target of 10% of energy in transport stemming from renewable sources. This raises the 5 % limit initially proposed last year by the European Commission, but also lowers the 6,5% limit proposed by the Parliament’s industry committee. The industry committee also proposed a sub target of 2,5% for advanced biofuels, such as waste residues or fuels produced from algae, which have significantly lower GHG emissions. This was also endorsed in the 11 September vote. This is a welcome incentive for advanced biofuels, but more could and should be done.

It is clear that the report that went through the European Parliament today is indeed a compromise. What remains to be seen is whether it will be a constructive and workable one, or whether it will produce a new set of complications akin to the ones it has just addressed.

MEPs voted by just one vote against starting negotiations with the European Council, meaning  the legislation will now go to a second reading and further tangible progress is unlikely until after European elections in May 2014.

The vote follows a plenary debate held on Monday and a public debate held last week in Brussels (read more here).