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04/17/2014
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IPCC adopts a more nuanced approach and recognize benefits of biofuels

It’s good to see that a highly regarded institution, like the United Nations, has just released a new report that has the courage ‎to simply follow the empirical evidence about the benefits of responsibly produced biofuels.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has taken an empirically sensible-based approach this time towards biofuels and recognizes that they can contribute to climate change mitigation, provided that some good practices are put in place. It adopts a much more nuanced approach to biofuels – an approach that I have been defending since the beginning of the discussion on ILUC – arguing that biofuels may have from 30 to 90% GHG emission reduction than fossil fuels (per kilometre travelled, Chapter 8), but acknowledging that public policies need to be determined on a case by case basis to take into account the specificities of different biofuels and possible direct and indirect LUC effects.

In fact, some biofuels (conventional and advanced) can be more or less well-performing in terms of GHG emission reduction and this needs to be evaluated in a more balanced way than the black and white approach proposed by the Commission with the cap on conventional biofuels. As I said in several other occasions, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol records excellent performances even though it is a so-called first-generation biofuels.

Additionally, the use of biofuels in transport, as a climate change mitigation measure, is mentioned in the report as a mean to reduce oil dependence and thus increasing energy security, which is definitely a key concern at the moment for the European Union.

Quite interestingly, the IPCC’s report makes two important points. First, it refers to the European Union policies on biofuels, claiming that the much contested Fuel Quality Directive is actually a “durable framework” and provides “flexibility to industry in determining how best to reduce fuel carbon intensity” (Chapter 8), just right now that the EU Commission proposed to get rid of it! Secondly, it expresses some doubts on the measurement of direct and indirect effects on land-use change.

Now, I wonder the impact of these considerations on the current debate on the 2030 Climate and Energy Package. The Package was mainly criticised for the lack of specific renewables targets for Member States as well as of specific transport targets. Without these elements, it is very difficult to expect the Member States to increase the amount of renewables and biofuels in their energy mix and meet the general objective of decarbonising transport. From its side, the IPCC is giving some credit to the FQD and proposes a conscious and balanced approach to biofuels.

I am also pleased to see the IPCC’s contextualized arguments on Brazil, which is mentioned several times in the report for some good examples in the sugarcane industry as well as for employment conditions and deforestation control policy. Notably, the Brazilian Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation is brought as an example on how the cooperation between several level of government and the “combination of economic and regulatory approaches significantly increased the protected areas” (Chapter 11). Further, IPCC recognizes that “Brazilian sugar cane ethanol production provides six times more jobs than the Brazilian petroleum sector and spreads income benefits across numerous municipalities” and rightly mentions the development of the bio-refineries in Brazil, where 10% of ethanol goes into bio-products (Chapter 11).

The IPCC should be credited for finally amending past inaccuracies as regards biofuels, by delivering a balanced approach in a report that carries significant weight with policymakers around the world. ‎Unfortunately, various lawmakers in Brussels have too often let the erroneous and emotion-based arguments of NGOs to guide policy around biofuels. Let’s hope that policy makers will give this IPCC report a considered examination to inform policy intentions going forward around responsibly produced biofuels.

Géraldine Kutas

A seasoned professional specializing in international trade policy, Géraldine Kutas leverages over a decade of experience to strengthen UNICA’s activities across the European Union, the United States and Asia. She has a deep expertise in biofuels and agricultural policies, coupled with extensive exposure to multilateral and regional trade negotiations in agriculture. Ms. Kutas is the author and co-author of several international publications on these topics. Before joining UNICA, she was a researcher and a professor at the Groupe d’Economie Mondiale at Sciences Po(GEM), Paris, and coordinator of the European Biofuels Policy research programme (EBP). Ms. Kutas has also worked as a consultant at the Inter-American Bank of Development and for agro-business firms. Ms. Kutas has a Ph.D. in International Economics from the Institut d’Etudes Poliques de Paris and a Master degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, Washington DC.