Common Sense Prevails

By Robert Vierhout | April 14, 2009
Almost six years after the first EU biofuels law came into force, the second law is now in place. It was a rather bumpy delivery but after almost two years of discussion the EU has adopted a legislative package to address growing climate and energy concerns. The EU countries can now prepare for 2020 when at least 10 percent (in energy terms) of fossil fuel for road transport needs to be replaced by renewable resources. The big difference between the first law and the new law is that biofuels use is mandatory. Countries, or for that matter oil companies, can no longer escape their responsibilities.

It is interesting to note how things have changed over the past six years. In 2003, the European Commission proposed a bill mandating the use of biofuels. The European Parliament supported that approach but several large countries such as Germany, France and the UK opposed such "Brussels" interfering in their national energy policy. In the end, the biofuel mandate changed into a voluntary measure.

Not surprisingly, this voluntary measure didn't deliver the expected result in most EU states. Thus the logical conclusion of the law's review in 2006 was that the use of biofuels had to become binding to successfully introduce biofuels into the market.

This time there was no opposition from the EU states but from the European Parliament. It was not the same Parliament as the one that favored the 2003 mandate but, nevertheless, the same Parliament that had expressed support for increased use of biofuels (including a 10 percent mandate) in several resolutions adopted before the second bill was tabled.

Unfortunately for the European biofuel industry, the member of the European Parliament (MEP), who had to guide the bill through Parliament, positioned himself from the start as a biofuels opponent. As member of the Green party he was influenced by green nongovernmental organizations (NGO) such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. As a former secretary of Friends of the Earth the MEP knew precisely who his friends were. Both organizations played a pivotal role in the group of NGOs who campaigned for abolition of the 10 percent biofuel. They also argued in favor of including the impossible-to-measure indirect land-use change (ILUC) effect and were against using any land that could be used for food production. If their wishes had come true, no biofuels would have been produced nor used in the EUa view supported by the honorable MEP.

The NGOs went to great length to demonstrate how rotten the biofuel sector was. For example, a few years ago a number of them, including Friends of the Earth, created the Worst EU Lobbying Award. The award is given to the company or organization that in their opinion misinformed regulators or used suspicious lobbying techniques. It was no surprise that in 2008 the biofuel sector was nominated for its "misleading campaigns to promote agrofuels as green." On Dec. 9, it was announced that the Worst EU Lobbying Award 2008 was won convincingly by the "agrofuel lobbyists of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Brazilian sugar barons UNICA (Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association) and energy company Abengoa Bioenergy." Of course we won: first they make fighting agrofuels their main campaign, then they nominate us and so their supporters (who else would caste a vote) vote for us. The award was simply the well-orchestrated climax of their anti-biofuel campaign; a week before the European Parliament adopted the new law.

In the nearly 20 years that I have worked in the EU decision-making environment, I have seldom seen the kind of large-scale, aggressive and persistent campaigning against a relatively small economic sector. The intensity, frequency and professionalism of campaigning convinced me that some bigger powers are behind these green groupsan unholy alliance with big oil and big food? Even though their campaign has been annoying and caused a lot of damage to the image and economics of the biofuel sector it did not deliver the result they aimed forwhat a pity for them.

In the end, common sense prevailed. The Council of EU Member States prevented a lot of detrimental parliamentary amendments to become law. Even though the green MEP stated that the biofuels target was seriously undermined, the 10 percent objective was basically kept unaltered, ILUC effects were not incorporated nor was the interdiction to use land that could be used for food production. There are indeed devils in the details but the future of the biofuels industry has been safeguarded. The few noisy operating members of the European Parliament finally had to bite the dust.

Robert Vierhout is the secretary-general of eBIO, the European Bioethanol Fuel Association. Reach him at vierhout@ebio.org.