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Pressure mounts over biofuels

A report has been published by ClientEarth, reflecting mounting concerns over the use of biofuels as a substitute for fossil fuel. Not only are there serious concerns about land use, competition with food and deforestation, but analysis shows that biofuels are often nowhere near carbon-neutral. When a full lifecycle analysis is carried out, the total emissions can be comparable or even higher than those from burning fossil fuel.

The European Emissions Trading System (ETS) requires industries covered by the scheme to report and surrender permits for emissions from burning fossil fuels. But biofuels are currently exempted so the system of capping, the main mechanism to control emissions, has a potentially large loophole. 

The report by ClientEarth is called ‘Bringing the ETS in line with reality: Making biomass emissions count through the Monitoring and Reporting Regulation.’ It says that “ .. the current application of a zero-emission factor to emissions from biomass used in sectors covered by the ETS does not accurately reflect actual emissions from biomass and is, moreover, contrary to the principle underlying the ETS that each operator should be responsible for his own emissions.”

The briefing concludes that the Commission should delete the zero-emission factor for biomass and that it can do so under current legislation for operators using biomass as part of a broader fuel mix are concerned. Where pure biofuel is used however, a legislative procedure may be required to amend the relevant ETS Directive. The report can be found at  http://www.clientearth.org/climate-forests-publications 

Use of biofuels is highly relevant to aviation, with aviation due to join the ETS in 2012 and the industry seeking rapid expansion despite all the concerns about climate change. The biofuel issue is complex, but AEF is supportive of the principle that biofuels should be recognised under ETS as having non-zero carbon emissions and should be treated accordingly in caps and permits.

The aviation industry expects uptake of biofuels to be slow and has indicated that it is only really interested in ‘third generation’ biofuels which will not compete with food production. But now is the time to get ETS right, especially as decisions on how biofuel is made will be taken by manufacturers around the world and not by airlines or the EU.