A plan to increase the use of biofuels in Europe, to be outlined next week, may do nothing to help fight climate change and incur costs that outweigh the benefits, says an internal European Union report.
The unpublished study by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s in-house scientific institute, was prepared ahead of the commission’s meeting next Wednesday when it is set to endorse plans for biofuels to account for 10 per cent of transport fuels in the 27-member EU by 2020.
“The costs [of the target] will almost certainly outweigh the benefits,” says the report, a copy of which has been obtained by the Financial Times. Taxpayers would face a bill of €33bn-€65bn between now and 2020, the study says.
“The uncertainty is too great to say whether the EU 10 per cent biofuel target will save greenhouse gas or not,” it adds.
EU leaders called for the target last year as part of a move to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020.
However, some commissioners have expressed concerns about the knock-on effects of using plants for fuel. Indonesia has seen large street protests this week over record soyabean prices triggered by US farmers opting to grow corn to supply the biofuel industry over soyabeans.
Green groups are also concerned that forests could be cleared for food crops displaced by biofuel plantations, although the commission says it would introduce measures to avoid this. Corn and palm oil are among the most popular biofuel sources, though sugar from Brazil is considered the most “green” by the JRC as it grows quickly and produces a lot of energy.
A commission spokeswoman said the JRCreport had not been peer-reviewed. She said: “It is a contribution to the debate, we are looking at the whole picture and we will have sustainability criteria.”
The JRC suggests that it would be more efficient to use biofuel to generate power rather than fuel cars. It also suggests that the separate transport target be scrapped. It is even doubtful about the merits of using plant waste, such as straw, since transporting large quantities to biofuel factories itself requires fuel.
Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The report has a damning verdict on the EU policy. It should be abandoned in favour of real solutions to climate change.”
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