EU Biofuel Regulation is Not Environmentally Sustainable in The Long Term

According to a recent doctoral thesis from Lund University in Sweden, the EU biofuel regulation does not ensure a reduced climate impact and neither does it deal with the key issue of considerably reducing transport emissions.

Image Credit: Lund University

In his doctoral thesis, David Harnesk examined the impacts of the EU’s biofuel regulation, particularly the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, which efficiently meets its objectives of lowering the climate impact contributed from the transport industry as well as promoting rural development.

A regulatory framework has been introduced by the directive to make sure that, by 2020, the share of energy obtained from renewable sources will correspond to 10% of the energy consumption of the transport sector.

According to the study, the EU biofuel regulation does not guarantee a reduced climate impact because it is neither socially beneficial nor environmentally sustainable in the long term. It essentially benefits the EU market, without considering the impacts of the directive beyond the region.

On a smaller scale, biofuels can be a good alternative for public transport, but we cannot solve the climate issue by simply replacing fossil fuels with biofuels. Instead, we must reduce our energy consumption, as the total energy consumption within road transports is not decreasing.

David Harnesk, Lund University

David Harnesk suggests that, in part, as Europe was going through an economic crisis at the time, the directive and its predecessors were specifically drafted to support the continent’s agriculture and energy sector.

The thesis also highlights that the minimum requirements of the Renewable Energy Directive do not ensure significant social and environmental aspects.

Land criteria for carbon storage capacity and greenhouse gas emissions are the minimum requirements. It is important that these requirements are met so that producers are able to deliver to the EU’s subsidized biofuels market.

Land use change and poverty reduction via rural development are two instances of how the minimum requirements do not live up to the climate and rural development goals of the directives.  

Harnesk argues that biofuel production is part of a larger change in land use, which has temporarily moved towards large-scale production of crops. But all this has come at the cost of smaller farms and more biodiverse rural regions, both outside and within Europe.

For instance, Indonesia and Malaysia produce large quantities of palm oil that is exported to the EU, and now biofuels production has considerably increased in these countries for European consumption.

This development has resulted in the clearing of large regions of land and the emission of greenhouse gases that were earlier stored in the forest.

Harnesk also examined the EU’s developmental argument that was followed in relation to the establishment of the Renewable Energy Directive.

As such, developing countries would stand to gain economically, as it would allow them to supply biomass to a new European market, which would eventually lead to increased growth and more jobs.

He also suggests that the need for transformation is very important to create a more sustainable society but EU’s biofuel regulation diverts attention from this aspect.

The overall energy consumption of transports have to be brought down, but today, companies and politicians depend on biofuels as though they are some kind of global cure for the climate issues faced in the transport sector.

We will not be able to avoid transports, but we can change our approach. Society’s basic need for transport can be organised as a social service. This is already the case to a certain extent within public transport and mobility services. In order for the system to be sustainable, we need a combination of institutional arrangements that both reduce energy consumption and safeguard society’s basic transport needs.

David Harnesk, Lund University

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