France says EU may need to reconsider biofuel goal
Mon Jun 30, 2008
Reporting by Paul Taylor, writing by Pete Harrison
PARIS (Reuters) - The European Union may have to reconsider its target of getting 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020, or extend the deadline, incoming EU president France said on Monday.
Biofuel use is soaring as developed countries try to curb dependence on imported oil and cut emissions of carbon dioxide, but critics say the industry has encouraged deforestation and pushed up food prices by competing for grain.
The EU's target, which is intended to spur investment, has been a particular focus of criticism.
"On biofuels, we do not rule out in the long-run reconsidering the target, but that's not the issue now," French secretary of state for ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told visiting EU reporters.
She said the EU approach of setting a quota target was "probably a mistake", and it would be better to set strict environmental and social criteria for biofuels and then see what level of use was viable.
Those criteria would have to include measures to ensure biofuels do not displace food-producing crops, she said.
"Probably we will be obliged to call into question or postpone the 10 percent objective," said Kosciusko-Morizet.
Earlier this month, Italy became the first EU member to publicly call for a review of the target.
Britain has also raised concerns, and this week its government will receive a long-awaited report on the impact of its targets for biofuels.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has said the EU target must be conditional on rigorously applied sustainability criteria.
[THE EU SHOULD BE FOCUSING ON ECONOMIC COST-BENEFIT, not SUSTAINABILITY].
Efforts towards a sustainable market for biofuels are being closely watched by producers such as Brazil, which hope the EU's huge market will create the critical mass to bring biofuels into the global mainstream.
EU biofuels target 'probably a mistake,' France says
By LEIGH PHILLIPS
June 30, 2008
The noose is steadily tightening around the neck of EU biofuels targets, with France on Monday (30 June) saying that the EU's 10 percent biofuels target may have to be reconsidered, in the latest attack on the renewable energy drive.
"Probably we will be obliged to call into question or postpone the 10 percent objective," said French ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet speaking to reporters in Paris, according to the Reuters news agency.
The renewable energy source has come under attack from all quarters.
She added that developing a target for the controversial fuel source was "probably a mistake" and that the EU had proposed things the wrong way round: setting environmental and social criteria for the production of biofuels should have been developed first and then any target should have been drafted to match that. [???]
[PERHAPS, NO TARGET SHOULD HAVE BEEN SET AT ALL UNTIL STUDIES & SIMULATIONS WERE PERFORMED EVALUATED THE PROBABLE SOCIO-ECONOMIC-ENVIRONMENTAL OUTCOMES OF VARIOUS TARGET SCENARIOS]
The EU in 2007 agreed that 10 percent of all transport fuel should come form renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020 as part of a wider overhaul of its energy sector. "On biofuels, we do not rule out in the long-run reconsidering the target," Ms Kosciusko-Morizet said.
With France taking over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on Tuesday (1 July), the statement carries added weight, and follows on from a call from Italy earlier in the month for the bloc to review the target.
"We took with too much haste the decision on an objective that is not reachable," said Italian economic development minister Claudio Scajola in early June.
The UK as well is expected to shortly adapt its position on biofuels with the expected release this week of the Gallagher Report, a review of Britain's biofuels policies.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the working group set up by the European Commission and EU member states to consider how to develop environmental and social criteria on biofuel production and imports is close to agreement on a set of standards.
Quoting the Slovenian diplomat appointed to chair the group's discussions, Miran Kresal, the news agency says the group is likely to include language preventing the use of biofuels grown in habitats of endangered species, or biodiverse savannahs and grasslands, as well as land whose use has resulted in significant net emissions of carbon dioxide.
Legally binding labour standards were ruled out by the group due to concerns that such a move would not pass muster with the World Trade Organisation. Instead, the group will be looking to task the European Commission with the job of strict monitoring of social standards.
[THIS IS ANOTHER WAY IN WHICH THE EU COMMISSION MAY PARTAKE IN 'SOCIAL BLACKLISTING' OF THOSE COMPANIES THAT DO NOT COMPLY WITH EU CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY MANDATES IMPOSED, VERIFIED AND AUDITED BY EU-FUNDED NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS.]
The key concern of environmentalists - the amount of CO2 emitted – who in the last year have moved from being supporters of biofuels to campaigning against their use, remains a source of contention within the working group, however.
Biofuels and food prices
The group has not developed any criteria relating to the possible effect of biofuels on food prices.
While the European Commission has repeatedly argued biofuels policies have had a negligible impact on food costs, the UN Food and Agriculture organisation says that biofuels explain 10 percent of recent price rises.
The International Monetary Fund puts this figure at 30, a figure backed by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The World Bank, however, says that biofuels have contributed to 65 percent of the price rises.
Dragan Barbutovski, a spokesperson for the Slovenian presidency of the EU, told EUobserver "The working group was set up long before the food crisis was high on the EU's agenda."
"As such it only ever had a mandate to assess potential sustainability criteria for the fuel quality directive and the renewable energy directive," he added.