Europe, Brazil Pledge Sustainable Biofuels Development

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 5, 2007 (ENS) - The European Union is committed to developing and producing biofuels "in ways that protect our planet not in ways that create new risks," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in his keynote speech to the International Biofuels Conference in Brussels today.

The linked issues of energy security and climate change have placed biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel at the top of political agendas around the world, Barroso said, while underlining the challenges that Europe must overcome to meet the EU's new policy of including 10 percent biofuels in vehicle fuel by 2020.

EU President Jose Barroso (Photo courtesy Office of President Barroso)

"We are all aware that - in some cases - biofuels can be produced in ways that do not deliver greenhouse gas savings," he said. "Equally - again, in some cases - biofuels can be produced in ways which cause environmental problems in terms of soil protection, water management, biodiversity, air protection, and the world's forests."

"But that doesn't change the fact that it is possible to manage biofuel development in ways that reap the potential benefits, without engendering new problems," the president said.

While ethanol production from non-food plants is in the technical development stage, biofuels are currently made from sugar cane, sugar beet, palm oil and corn. To the extent that they can substitute for fossil fuels, biofuels hold the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Wilmar, the world's biggest trader in palm oil, used to make biofuels, is illegally logging rainforests, setting forests on fire, and violating the rights of local communities in Indonesia, according to a new report published Tuesday by Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

The report demonstrates the danger of the European Union's recent commitment to replace 10 percent of its transport fuel market with biofuels by 2020, the environmental group says.

"If the European Union continues to promote palm oil imports in order to meet its recently adopted 10 percent biofuels target, this will simply aggravate the severe environmental and social impacts in countries like Indonesia," said Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth corporate campaigner.

"The European Commission should accept that setting such a rigid target was premature and drop it until the situation in producer countries has been fully assessed," he said.

Fire in Indonesian rainforest (Photo courtesy Milieudefensie/FoE Netherlands)

Europe is the world's biggest palm oil importer. Wilmar supplies multinational companies such as Unilever, Nestle and Cargill.

Rully Syumanda, forest campaigner at Friends of the Earth Indonesia-WALHI said, "Europe's growing demand for palm oil is leading to environmental and social devastation here in Indonesia."

Today Barroso promised that the European Commission will set up a "rigorous sustainability mechanism" to underpin a new market for these products.

"Greenhouse gas emissions in transport are growing fast," European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told conference delegates. "This growth is negating the savings being made elsewhere."

"On present trends," said Piebalgs, "transport will account for more than 60 percent of the EU's increase in carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2020; it is essential for these trends to be reversed."

"At EU level, there are just two policies with the capacity to do this on a significant scale - vehicle efficiency improvements and biofuels," said the energy commissioner. "We must promote them both strongly."

Barroso said, "Let's work towards globally agreed sustainability criteria to open up a credible and sustainable international market. Any such international mechanism can only be the result of a transparent and frank dialogue with all trading partners," he said, "and today's conference is an important first step towards that."

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Photo courtesy Office of European President Barroso)
President Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, where biofuels have been in use for decades, opened the international conference with the message that biofuels are "the key to promote democratization in access to energy in the world, reducing the inequalities between producer nations and consumers."

Today, President Lula said, only 20 countries produce energy for about 200 countries of the world.

"With the adoption of the biofuels, more than 100 countries will be able to produce energy, democratizing its access.

Lula advocated a coherent position on the part of the developed countries that say they want to fight global warming. He said these countries must not impose high import taxes on biofuels that would make it more difficult for consumer countries to purchase climate friendly biofuels.

Lula said the solution is in stimulating the establishment of an international market for ethanol and biodiesel sogovernments can indicate clearly to the private sector that biofuels are one of the priority pillars of their energy and environment agenda.

"We cannot emit contradictory signals," he concluded.

President Barroso said the European Commission is now working on the first blueprint for the creation of an internal biofuel market in the EU, and a legislative proposal will be put forward before the end of this year.

Cars that run on biofuels like ethanol emit less greenhouse gases than petroleum-fueled vehicles. (Photo courtesy Bio-Ethanol Carbeurant)

"This proposal will also serve as a basis for fostering relations with our external partners, in particular for pursuing discussions on the creation of an international biofuel market," Barroso said. "Convergence of technical standards will play an important part in this."

"The recently established partnership between the EU and Brazil is an example of the kind of partnership we want to build with others in this growth area," Barroso said.

At the first EU Brazil Summit in Lisbon, Portugal on Wednesday, the governments launched a EU-Brazil Strategic Partnership that will strengthen ties in economic cooperation, research and technology, maritime transport, satellite navigation and social issues.

Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, said at the summit, "Brazil is a vital actor on climate change and protection of forests. This will be one of the key items discussed during the Summit. We have already set up a dialogue on environment at the level of experts and are about to launch one on energy."

Today, the EU and Brazil signed documents to establish an energy dialogue. Based on existing agreements between Europe and Brazil, the dialogue will develop bilateral cooperation in biofuels and other renewable energy sources, low carbon energy technologies, and the improvement of energy efficiency. The first meeting will take place this autumn.

Meanwhile, today a new 10 year forecast warns that soaring biofuel demand is driving up agricultural prices.

The Agricultural Outlook 2007-2016, jointly published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, blames the recent hikes in farm commodity prices on factors such as droughts in wheat growing regions and low stocks.

The growing use of food crops for fuel is driving up crop prices and, indirectly through higher animal feed costs, the prices for livestock products, said the FAO.

"Most biofuel policies are new and it is not clear which measures are most effective in achieving the mix of objectives such as lower fossil fuel dependence or less greenhouse gas emissions," the report notes.

The report predicts that annual corn-based ethanol output will double between 2006 and 2016 in the United States.

In Brazil, annual ethanol production is projected to reach some 44 billion liters by 2016 from around 21 billion today.

In the European Union the amount of oilseeds used for biofuels is set to grow from just over 10 million tons to 21 million tons over the same period.

The report pointed out that higher commodity prices are a particular concern for countries classified as net food importing countries, as well as for the urban poor.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.