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Biofuels: The Clock is Ticking

After an intense summer break, which saw Brussels far from quiet but rather busy speculating about the nominations to top EU posts, business has resumed in the institutions.

In the Parliament, the Environment committee has already met to vote on the questionnaire to be addressed to the Commissioner-Designates for Environment and Climate in upcoming hearings. The committee will soon reopen discussions on the ILUC proposal in second reading, under the leadership of the new rapporteur, Nils Torvalds, and newly designated shadow rapporteurs such as Christopher Fjellner for the EPP. As I mentioned already in previous posts, in second reading only the leading committee is involved in developing the Parliament position and the associated Committee (ITRE) is only entitled to propose amendments ahead of the plenary vote.

Member States, which agreed on a Council position on 13 June, have not yet transmitted their common position to the Parliament. We hear that this will only happen in November. All this tells me that Member States are not particularly eager to resume what they see as a controversial debate.  With such a sluggish approach, the file is unlikely to see a conclusion before mid-2015.

Once more: delay, delay, delay! Despite the ticking clock in the background, EU policymakers fail to realise the urgency of the situation.

A report published at the end of August highlights the consequences of these inconsistent and delayed policies – in the EU and elsewhere. In its 2014 medium-term forecast on Renewable Energy, the IEA notes that “biofuels for transport face a slower growth and persistent policy challenges”. The lack of clarity in how the EU aims to address the sustainability of biofuels and the difficulty in foreseeing a rapid epilogue to the ILUC proposal have a clear detrimental impact on the biofuels industry, which is in no condition to plan long-term investments.

Even the Commission, which initially put forward the legislative proposal to fix the ILUC issue, now seems to be turning its back to the whole debate. It appears that the line of the new Transport Commissioner for the next five years will be to focus more on alternative fuels (EVs, LNG, CNG, etc) than on biofuels, given the legislative uncertainty on ILUC.

Bottom line, the climate around biofuels seems even more complicated than before the summer. Policy makers are taking time and industry is struggling. The EU should decide a line of action and implement it if it wants the biofuels industry to be able to help in the decarbonisation of transport and in the development of advanced biofuels. A more balanced approach is necessary to allow good biofuels (whether conventional or advanced) to contribute to the fuel mix and align Europe with other countries where gasoline is preferred to diesel and higher blends of ethanol are in use.

Until a more balanced approach is adopted, the clock will continue to tick – worryingly so

Géraldine Kutas