Europe to Study Indirect Land Use

Biofuels & Climate Change

The European Parliament on Dec. 17 adopted amendments to the Renewable Energy Sources Directive, raising targets for production of biofuels but at the same time setting strict sustainability standards to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of road transport fuels. The Parliament’s adopted text makes clear that it intends to calculate climate change emissions from international land use, but that the science is not currently available to do so:

Whereas
(11) In calculating the greenhouse gas impact of land conversion, economic operators should be able to use actual values for the carbon stocks associated with the reference land use and the land use after conversion. They should also be able to use standard values. The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the appropriate basis for this. That work is not currently expressed in a form that is immediately usable by economic operators.”

The text also includes this assessment of the risk of indirect land use change and the need for an accurate measurement:

(18) Even if biofuels themselves are made using raw materials from land already in arable use, the net increase in demand for crops caused by the promotion of biofuels could lead to a net increase in the cropped area. This could be into high carbon stock land, in which case there would be damaging carbon stock losses. To alleviate this risk, it is appropriate to introduce accompanying measures to encourage an increased rate of productivity increases on land already used for crops; the use of degraded land; and the adoption of sustainability requirements, comparable to those laid down in this Directive for EU biofuel consumption, in other biofuel-consuming jurisdictions. The Commission shall develop a concrete methodology to minimise greenhouse gas emissions caused by indirect land use changes. In doing this the Commission shall analyse, on the basis of best available scientific evidence, in particular, inter alia, the inclusion of a factor for indirect land use changes in the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions and the need to incentivise sustainable biofuels which minimise the impacts of land use change and improve biofuel sustainability with respect to indirect land use change. In developing this methodology, the Commission should inter alia address the potential indirect land use change effects of biofuels produced from non-food cellulosic material and from ligno-cellulosic material.”

The agreed upon amendments to Directive 98/70/EC include a two-year study of indirect land use change that is to include methods to ensure that sustainable biofuels avoid causing land use change:

7d. (6). The Commission shall, by 31 December 2010, submit a report to the European Parliament and to the Council reviewing the impact of indirect land use change on greenhouse gas emissions and addressing ways to minimise this impact. This report shall where appropriate be accompanied, in particular by a proposal, based on the best available scientific evidence, containing a concrete methodology for emissions from carbon stock changes caused by indirect land use changes, ensuring compliance with this Directive, in particular Article 7b(2).”

Annex IV. Rules for Calculating Life Cycle Greenhouse Emissions from Biofuels, includes the calculation of GHG reductions for different types of biofuels without land use change.

Note that the U.S. Energy Security and Independence Act also called for a National Academies study of indirect land use impact, to be completed within 18 months of the law’s enactment. That study has not been funded.

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2 Responses to Europe to Study Indirect Land Use

  1. mus302 says:

    I would like to think that they would conduct a fair study but Europe has a history of using the sustainability argument to restrict imported biofuels. I hope that the conclusions are based on sound science and not crafted as a instrument of protectionism.

  2. Isabel Bjork says:

    The news across the waters and all subjects is doom and gloom these days. Recession does create opportunity though, and debate, progress. So as I look toward 2009, I see a bangup year for biofuel.

    The EU has led the way, fixing a biofuel mandate (10% used in transport by 2020). In the great tradition of the EU, it has addressed concern with ongoing studies and reports. The Commission will study the arguments regarding greenhouse gas emissions, land conversion and food security and require input from experts on these issues. It will have responsibility to report to the EU Council and Parliament on these issues. But studies and reports notwithstanding, the 10% target remains in force.

    Meanwhile, in the US, the sea is parting for biofuel. Obama’s picks include an Energy Secretary who is a proponent of second generation biofuels, and also a Secretary of Agriculture who has advocated for use of ethanol based biofuel, while recognizing the need to study the emissions questions further. Add to that favorable state laws passed in 2008 (consider a June law in Massachusetts that requires blending into diesel and heating oil and eliminates taxes on ethanol that is non-food based), technological advances (experiments with lignin, among other compounds, make cellulosic biofuel look viable technologically and economically) and the sleeping giant, new federal law and regulations.

    That giant is RFS and its family of forthcoming administrative regulations, strategies and modeling. RFS is aggressive, if imperfect. It sets strong targets, categorizes lifecycle GHG emissions in a comprehensive manner, and envisions a progressive structure by which cellulosic biomass is increasingly incentivized over time, while crediting existing and more common biofuels for their current worth.

    Getting the lifecycle calculations right will take time, as will figuring out whether performance based or technology based approaches make the most sense, but the march is on and it is going the right way. In the meantime, eyes should be on the EPA’s rulemaking in particular over the coming months. The rulemaking process and product may look dull on the surface, but I see volanic shifts coming, and soon.

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