Biofuels – a burning question

Please do this today: ask your MEP to vote for the lowest possible limit on the addition of biofuels to transport fuels by clicking here and supporting Action Aid’s campaign.

There is a vote tomorrow where MEPs will be asked to decide whether to limit biofuels to 5.5% or 6.5% of transport fuel volumes.  The right answer is 0% – and 5.5% is closer to 0% than is 6.5%.

Biofuels sound good but aren’t.

When Friends of the Earth, the RSPB and Action Aid are all on the same side and all regard something as a big problem then you can be fairly sure that it is.  Biofuels are a big problem for wildlife (rainforest and grassland destruction), the climate (when indirect land-use changes are taken into account then they rarely save much or any carbon) and people (large areas of land which used to grow food are now used for fuel).

I contacted my MEPs through Action Aid some time ago.

This is what I received from my LibDem MEP, Bill Newton-Dunn – I approve!

Dear Mark.
Thank you very much for the message.
I agree with your position.
It is a very complex subject - known as the Indirect Land Use Change
("ILUC") amendment to the EU Fuel Quality Directive and the EU 
Renewable Energy Directive. It seeks to correct the negative 
side-effects of the EU's support for growing biofuels, in order to 
ensure that the subsidised biofuels achieve the greenhouse gas 
reductions which have been promised to the world by Europe. The 
Proposal before us now is to put a ceiling on food based biofuels 
so that their contribution to the national state targets across the
EU would be limited to 5%. Political decisions, however well-meaning,
 are often full of unintended consequences. And one effect of this 
subsidising of biofuels by Europe is the effect on the economies of
developing countries. Hence, my intention to vote next week for the 
5% ceiling.
I will keep you informed about what happens.
All good wishes
Bill Newton Dunn, Liberal Democrat MEP


I received this from Emma McClarkin my Conservative MEP – she doesn’t appear to know what she is doing:

Thank you for contacting me about the use of food crops as biofuels and the upcoming vote on the issue in September. In responding to you I have been in contact with my colleague Julie Girling MEP who has been following this on behalf of the Conservative delegation. Her reply is outlined below:

As the Shadow Rapporteur for the ECR Group for this file in both the Agriculture (AGRI) and Environment (ENVI) Committees I have been working on this topic for quite some time, and I am aware of many of the challenges and issues we face in amending this proposal.

Regarding the use of food crops to make biofuels, after many lengthy discussions on the best way forward, the ENVI Committee adopted a consolidated amendment setting a 5.5% cap on the contribution that biofuels made from certain ‘food crops’ (i.e. cereal and other starch rich crops, sugars and oil crops) can make to targets under the Renewable Energy Directive. This amendment also introduced a sub-target of 2% for non-land using advanced biofuels to boost their production and achieve greater carbon reductions.

Concerning ILUC factors, I supported an amendment calling for ILUC emissions to be accounted from 2020 as part of the obligation to reduce the carbon intensity of transport fuels supplied under the Fuel Quality Directive. This builds on the original Commission proposal which calls for ILUC emissions to be reported from 2015.

In addition, the Committee called for a Commission report to be submitted to the European Parliament before the end of 2015 to consider the positive and negative environmental and economic impacts of biofuels produced from waste residues, co-products or non-land using feedstocks.

I have been urged to vote for a 5% cap on biofuels grown on land that could be used to grow food and have brought this to the attention of Mrs Girling who, as shadow rapporteur for the Conservative delegation, has promised to take this into consideration.

I do hope this has addressed the concerns you have. Thank you again for contacting me.


But I haven’t had anything from Labour yet – how hopeless!





22 Replies to “Biofuels – a burning question”

    1. I’d rather they said nowt than go poncing about on a glacier hugging huskies and then forgetting about it.

  1. “But I haven’t had anything from Labour yet – how hopeless!”

    KO’d by the news that the economy has turned a corner? That Plan A can now be seen to be best?

    Come on you Ed’s even I can work out that at 2% sustained growth (way above what we’re achieving) it’s be 2100 ish before we pay off the national debt assuming all cuts that can be made have been made and that inflation is kept relatively low.

    5% year on year growth and we pay it off by 2036! We’ve acheived 5% once since 1952 and with 76% of GDP down to the service sector how many more new hotels is it going to take? We could site wind turbines on them I suppose.

    New thinking is needed, even of the lunatic variety I keep regugitating coming from the alternative clever people. 300k sigs for Badgers suggests it aint going to happen soon, the idea that is a big number is just spin also.

    However, on a more optimistic note:

    Yesterday I learned that Bob Geldof is still suitably angry at the current state of play, that Valdimir Putin is not the demon portrayed by western politicians but on Syria at least a constructive voice. And then there was Robert Peston brilliantly building on the “Consumed. Inside the Belly of the Beast” film by showing us how our over-consumption grew but is now coming into check. He also bought back to mind how the “race to the bottom” that is “Free Trade” bought about the deaths of hundreds of workers in a sweat shop in Bangaladesh while Primark devotees buy stuff for the price of a bag of chips, wear it twice and throw it away! That Phillip Green was attempting to put M&S out of its misery so that he could consolidate hundreds of workers out of a living and pay his tax exiled wife even more dosh – how much does he need for the sake of the G? But then it is a dog eat dog world as the boss of Tesco informed us. Milo Minderbinder please make a comeback.

    I’m quite encouraged that the BBC is showing stuff like this, Robert is a new hero and Bill Turnbull (on bees) before him. A picture is 6 trillions words. The Pure Green movement could learn a lot from that, even the lovely lady who was so proud of her devotion to shopping in order to acheive more and more freebies might start to understand the true cost of the lifestyle the marketing man has created for her. She might then vote to preserve our lovely planet!!

    1. Nice post Phil. I hadn’t thought of watching ‘Robert Peston goes shopping’ as it sounded too mundane and dumbing down has started numbing my brain. Where is the intelligent, questioning TV these days? But, even though an economist, it does sound like he has highlighted the downsides of consumption too. Also, his normally hesitating delivery finds me finishing his sentences. Countryside interpretation is becoming mundane now, quite hard to make nature mundane, but they make a good job of it. In America, landscape and nature interpretataion treats you as an intelligent adult, makes you think, understand and value nature’s complexity, rather than simplifying it to the lowest common demoninator. The RSPB’s new reserve leaflets could do with some American input, they seem to be aimed at young children. Only with understanding do we appreciate and value.

  2. Radio 4’s ‘Costing the Earth’ had an interesting item on Palm Oil last week (still available via the web-site I think) which included a look at its use in transport fuels (I believe the contribution of palm oil to this particular end use has reduced somewhat recently). It called into question the effectiveness of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil which apparently has two membership levels one of which doesn’t require any kind of demonstration of sustainable production practices! All very confusing for customers especially when palm oil is usually not clearly labelled as a product ingredient anyway.

    ‘Countryfile’ on Sunday had an item about wheat grown for bioethanol and the opening of a big bioethanol plant on Humberside. This was presented in terms of major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions with no discussion of any other aspects such as indirect land-use change, or of what factors were included in the calculation of the claimed ghg reductions compared to fossil fuel.

    1. Jonathan – I’ve never been keen on the Round Table and I try to make sure I am in the countryside when Countryfile is on these days.

    2. I was interested to see that the Humberside plant makes beer, animal feed and the biofuel from the same wheat. So I would have thought not such a bad idea to get 3 products out of the crop, + a 4th in the straw too !

      1. Mark W – easy to think that – think this instead, please!

        1) most biofuel you pour into your tank is imported and quite a lot of it is palm oil, much of which was grown on former rainforests and hastens their destruction
        2) UK wheat is not without its GHG emission footprint – taking it to Humberside, processing it, and then taking bits of it to cattle (instead of taking it straight to cattle) adds further to that footprint.
        3) the food requirements of the world are not reducing – using food to produce fuel means that somewhere else in the world more land is taken into production with loss of wildlife and a land use change that will almost certainly create more carbon emissions.

        It doesn’t make sense at all. If it did on any of wildlife, carbon or social grounds would Action Aid, the RSPB and FoE all be against it?

        1. “If it did [make sense] … would Action Aid, the RSPB and FoE all be against it?”

          Mark – you are such a wag!

      2. I think the reference to beer in the programme was unfortunate – shorthand to explain the process. If they really made beer the excise duty on the alcohol would be crippling.

        It’s true that bioethanol production – and biodiesel from oilseed rape – is relatively good at utilising by-products but the diversion of resources from human food production unavoidable. All they do is provide us with a small buffer against our reliance on supplies of transport fuels produced from oil-exporting countries that don’t like us very much.

  3. I’ve had the following reply from UKIP. I’ll post others if I receive any.

    Dear Mr Cook

    Thank you for your recent email.

    As a UKIP MEP, I strongly oppose the EU forcing any sort of targets onto us, including the production of biofuels. My colleagues and I will be discussing how to vote on the 5% cap. The problem for us in voting in favour is that it indicates an acknowledgement of the EU’s power and gives it the green light to interfere even more in the cropping plans of farmers which in turn generates all the inevitable red tape that accompanies such interference.

    The whole subject of biofuels is not as simple as it appears. The world’s grain supply is not just dependent on the number of acres planted, but also dependent on the weather which means that it is possible to have several consecutive years of surplus. Such a scenario forces down prices to the extent that a proportion of farmers will not have the confidence to plant again for a new season which might also coincide with a bad growing season and suddenly we experience serious shortages.

    The availability of an additional market in times of surplus keeps farmers interested in farming their land to its optimum. The real political challenge is to find a way of closing down biofuel demand at times of grain shortage. ‘Letting the market decide’ should be the first option. As grain prices rise, bio-fuels become less competitive against other sources of energy. Another option is to ensure that biofuels do not receive any specific subsidy. An additional scenario is to oblige the manufacturers of biofuels to carry (say) two years’ worth of grain stocks on their premises for them to use when grain prices shoot upwards.

    In an Independent Britain, outside of the EU, we could devise such systems to suit our own circumstances.

    The final point to remember on this subject is that a tonne of grain sent to bio-fuel is not a tonne of grain lost to the food chain. Depending on the type of grain used, there can be up to 50% of bi-product derived from the biofuel process. This bi-product is an excellent livestock feedstuff.

    Yours sincerely

    Stuart Agnew MEP

    Office of Stuart Agnew MEP

    1. Stuart Agnew’s reply:

      “The problem for us in voting in favour is that it indicates an acknowledgement of the EU’s power and gives it the green light to interfere even more in the cropping plans of farmers which in turn generates all the inevitable red tape that accompanies such interference”

      How would voting one way or the other, either increase or reduce red tape ? This is plainly non-nonsensical. Farmers will grow bio-fuels if they feel the market conditions are right, a cap may serve to reduce demand and thus bring down the price and therefore make bio-fuels look a less attractive proposition. Conversely the opposite may happen if the cap was lifted. I fail to see how this generates more or less red tape ?

      It also appears that Stuart Agnew’s views on bio-fuels are a little inconsistent, although perhaps he has changed his mind since he had this little rant back in April.

      I also notice that he fails to mention the impact of soft commodity speculation, these days this has as much of an impact on grain markets as the weather and global harvests, but for some reason it is an issue that many politicians seem to avoid.

    1. It’s powered by Sparklets cartridges – the compressed CO2 is produced during bioethanol production so it’s carbon neutral. So that’s all right then.

      It’s on the Environment pages because of the reduction in noise pollution that will result from St Bob’ absence.

      1. Talking of compressed air, whatever happened to the compressed air car Tata were building (as advertised in the Sunday Times last year). 300km per litre of veg oil was the claim.

      2. St Bob has a pretty good record of reaching out to masses of people or did I dream that? Better than just wittering on about saving the planet I’d have thought?

  4. e- mail sent to the various regional list MEPs, one reply so far from an SNP member, stating that the science is still in its infancy and they won’t commit themselves fully, but they sort of agree. Mealy- mouthed reply, typical of the SNP on environmental issues.

    Given the SNP’s track record on fossil fuels, they’re probably working on a slogan claiming its Scotland’s Palm Oil.

  5. Quite a decent reply from my Labour MEP in fact:

    Thank you for your email on the draft EU legislation on biofuels and
    indirect land use change (ILUC).

    On 11 July, the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI)
    adopted a report on this issue with a large majority. This report will
    now be voted on by the plenary tomorrow (11 September 2013).

    Labour MEPs believe the EU’s climate policies in the transport sector
    should be based on genuine environmental and social sustainability. This
    means that biofuels should offer genuine and clear greenhouse gas
    savings, and that those associated with indirect land use change should
    be accounted for. It also means that biofuels policy should not have an
    adverse affect on food prices and food security for vulnerable
    populations. In addition, advanced (non-food crop-based) biofuels that
    can provide definitive greenhouse gas savings and be genuinely
    sustainable will help provide alternative fuel sources for the future.
    The ENVI committee’s report included specific targets for advanced
    biofuels, as well as for renewable electricity in rail and automotive

    Labour members in the ENVI committee supported a compromise position on
    a cap of 5.5%, believing this was a good outcome given the differing
    views and opposition to a low cap from right-wing MEPs. In the upcoming
    plenary vote, we will push for as a low a cap as possible, and for
    binding ILUC factors to be retained in the Parliament’s report.

    Even after the whole Parliament’s vote in the autumn, this draft
    legislation will have to be discussed and negotiated with
    representatives from the national governments across the EU. There is
    therefore still a long way to go before a final position on this issue
    will be decided. Raising your concerns on this issue is very important,
    and I would encourage you to also highlight them to your local MP and
    the UK government if you have not done so already.

    Yours sincerely,

    Brian Simpson MEP

  6. Mark,
    Here is another reply.

    Dear Mr Cook

    Thank you for your email regarding the issue of EU biofuel targets.

    We are seeing in many countries and in many ways how centrally set targets affect poorer citizens throughout the EU. The biofuel targets are another example of a ‘one size fits all’ way of governing.

    I am grateful to you for contacting me about this and for the information you have included. I will certainly be considering all points of view in the lead up to the vote on the 5% cap.

    Yours sincerely,

    David Campbell Bannerman MEP
    Conservative Member of the European Parliament for the East of England

  7. Received today from Vicky Ford (MEP for the East of England and Conservative Spokesman for Industry and Research):

    Dear Ms Gooding,

    Thank you for writing to me regarding the Fuel Quality Directive and specifically on the issue of Biofuels. I have received many letters and emails from constituents about the “Food Not Fuel” debate and have great sympathy with the concern that land may be being taken away from food production in order to grow biofuels and that this may cause problems, especially given global concerns about food supply in the future.

    I am also grateful to those who have helped inform me of the many different types of biofuels and am aware that certain fuel crops can be grown alongside or in rotation with food crops without damaging food production. Also that certain fuel crops are making an extremely helpful contribution to energy diversity. There are many issues to consider.

    Yesterday we voted on the Directive in the Parliament and over 100 amendments were tabled with many differing views on many different parts of the Directive. Many of these votes were extremely close. Some of the amendments from the Parliament’s Environment Committee and Energy Committee passed, others did not.

    The Parliament voted for a 6% cap level. However, with so many amendments the draft text now no doubt has some conflicting elements. The Parliament voted by a very narrow margin to ask for a second reading.

    This means that National Government Ministers from each of the 28 member countries will be able to reconsider their own positions and make recommendations before the next stage of negotiations.

    With many thanks,

    Vicky Ford
    MEP for the East of England and Conservative Spokesman for Industry and Research

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