Last Wednesday the European Parliament voted on the Fuel Quality and Renewable Energy Directive. Current EU biofuel policy has huge consequences for developing countries, because it causes rising food prices, boosts land grabbing activities and contributes to the emission of greenhouse gasses. In the plenary session, the MEPs came to a decision regarding several aspects of biofuel policy. First, the European Parliament voted for a lower cap regarding food-based biofuels. With a cap of 6% on ‘first generation’ biofuels the European Parliament addressed the problems these food-based biofuels create for food security, as they cause food prices to rise as a result of increased demand for food crops, and cause land grabs in developing countries, where companies go to produce food crops for biofuel production. Because less land will be used for fuel under this cap, in comparison to the current directive, there is hope that this decision will be less harmful to global food security.
Besides the cap on food based biofuels, the European Parliament also decided that starting 2020, indirect land-use change factors (ILUC) should be taken into account when producing biofuels. Unfortunately a proposition to address and prevent the issue of land grabbing in the biofuel industry wasn’t adopted. We regret this, because land grabbing as a result of European biofuel policy is very problematic, forcing local communities to abandon land to make way for biofuel plantations. Read more in the Fair Politics impact study.
Overall, this decision of the European Parliament is a step in the right direction towards more coherence in the EU biofuel policy. But the battle is not over yet! With a minimal majority, the European Parliament voted against direct negotiations with the Council about this proposition. This delays the final decision of biofuel policy. The next step in the decision-making process is in hands of the Council, which will discuss this subject in December. After which the Council's position will be considered with a second reading in the European Parliament, most likely the newly elected Parliament will then deal with this topic again next year in the fall.
The council is still very divided over this topic, however the position of the Dutch government is in favour of the initial proposal of the Commission. The Dutch members of Parliament also debated last Wednesday, about biofuel policy, but with the Dutch minister for the environment. An important topic on the agenda was the social criteria for biofuels. This includes, among others, the principal of Free Prior Informed Consent, in which locals have to be included in the decision-making process related to what happens with their land, and mitigating negative impacts on food prices and food security. Parliament was quite divided on this issue. The Liberal Party (VVD) thinks social criteria are a step too far for Dutch policy. “We cannot deal with every single problem in the world.” The Socialist Party (SP) and the Labour Party (PvdA) however, were in favour of the proposals by the Minister. Using the example of Addax Biofuels in Sierra Leone, they showed how biofuel policy had a very negative impact on the lives of local people in developing countries. They urged the Minister to take this into account and really press for the inclusion of social criteria in Europe. The minister responded that she is looking into the possibilities of including social criteria in the biofuels policy either at the European or national level.
All in all, the Minister was very happy with the debate. Almost every party in Dutch Parliament took part in the debate. Therefore she feels supported by Parliament and hopefully she will use this support to urge the Council to make European biofuel policy more coherent.