A corporate-sponsored vision for agrofuels?What is the future vision for agrofuels? This was the topic under debate at an event organised on October 6 by the European Voice in the European Parliament with sponsorship from Shell.What is the future vision for agrofuels? This was the topic under debate at an event organised on October 6 by the European Voice in the European Parliament with sponsorship from Shell.
What is the future vision for agrofuels? This was the topic under debate at an event organised on October 6 by the European Voice in the European Parliament with sponsorship from Shell. Panellists from Shell, UNICA (the association of Brazilian sugar cane growers), WWF, the European Commission, EU presidency Sweden and the Parliament debated the outstanding issues of the EU agrofuel policy. Key was the significance of indirect land use change (ILUC) - when the expansion of agrofuel production in one place pushes the production of other crops (for example food) elsewhere.
Paul Hodson from DG TREN came under attack from Claude Turmes MEP (Greens), for the completely intransparent way in which the Commission is dealing with the indirect land use change issue. The Commission has announced it will publish a proposal on how to deal with ILUC by March 2010. Hodson said that a meeting had taken place on the 5 October bringing together some 80 industry representatives and certificiation experts to discuss the issue.
Turmes, who has done battle with Hodson many times over the 10% agrofuel target, criticised the Commission, saying: “These people like Paul [Hodson] are now in the driving seat to develop the methodology. There is no transparency and the Parliament is not even invited to these discussions.”
Geraldine Kutas from UNICA - the organisation which won the 2008 EU Worst Lobby Award - said that replacing fossil fuels with “biofuels” like sugar cane ethanol was a matter of urgency. But Kutas saw no reason to rush the issue of ILUC, saying that that “There is no scientific consensus on ILUC; we need more time”.
Sven-Olov Ericson from the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise admitted that Sweden was an ethanol champion: relying mainly on imported Brazilian ethanol from sugar cane. He called for a “cleaning out” of “bad biofuels" and an expansion of “good biofuels”. It is difficult to see how that can be achieved since there are currently no reliable mandatory criteria in place, and the Renewables Directive does not provide any; even aside from the unresolved issues that monoculture expansion will have indirect land use change and social impacts.
Claude Turmes stressed that the pressure on land was increasing. He warned that in California, even conservative estimates of indirect land use change impact would inhibit the use of many agrofuels that now meet the directive’s criteria. He said that these estimates, with more scientific research, are bound to go up.
WWF was the only NGO invited; perhaps because this organisation was the only one to support the 10% agrofuel target. It was clear to everyone that – as Imke Luebeke of WWF correctly pointed out - that social issues are “not WWF’s core issue”. Nevertheless, her colleague Jean-Philippe Denruyter told the other NGOs in 2007 that if the Commission proposal did not include any social criteria whatsoever, “… then I believe that all NGOs will oppose this kind of scheme. Including us.” There were no social criteria, but WWF still supported the agrofuel target.
Both Paul Hodson and a representative from Shell, pointed to the WWF-initiated voluntary schemes, including the Better Sugar Cane Initiative, the Round Table on Sustainable Biofuels, and the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as a way forward. These initiatives however have been criticised as greenwashing for agrofuels, and will certainly not provide a solution for one thing: indirect land use change.