* EU biofuel probe confirms some negative impact - officials
* EU's Oettinger: indirect effects are a "concrete danger"
* Oettinger: science unclear, more studies due by July 2011
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, Dec 15 A year-long European Union
investigation into biofuels has concluded that their green
credentials might be partly compromised by indirect
side-effects, which should be tackled, EU officials said.
The multi-billion-dollar industry fears barriers will be
further raised against unsustainable biofuels from food, but the
long-awaited European Commission report, due next week, will
stop short of proposing any new actions.
Instead, it will recommend six months more of studies.
The report follows a one-year internal battle among experts
within the Commission, which has thrown into doubt EU plans to
create a $17-billion-a-year market for biofuels from producers
such as France, Germany, Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Investment in European biofuels has slowed to a halt due to
doubts over the sector's green credentials and the challenging
investment climate. [ID:nLDE6B719K]
"Now we should realise security on sustainability and
security for investors in the EU fuel and transport sectors and
for countries of production," EU Energy Commissioner Guenther
Oettinger said when asked by Reuters about the report.
Recent uncertainty over investments has largely been caused
by a new concept known as "indirect land-use change" (ILUC).
In essence, that means that if you take a field of grain and
switch the crop to biofuel, somebody, somewhere, will go hungry
unless those missing tonnes of grain are grown elsewhere.
The crops to make up the shortfall could come from anywhere,
and economics often dictate that will be in tropical zones,
encouraging farmers to hack out new land from fertile forests.
Burning forests to clear that land can pump vast quantities
of climate-warming emissions into the atmosphere, enough, in
theory, to cancel out any of the climate benefits the biofuels
were meant to bring.
"Indirect land use (change) is a concrete danger," Oettinger
said. "It's a normal economic process that acres with
agriculture will be used as acres for production of biofuels."
"There's a danger that deforestation follows," he added.
"It's in our interest to have an instrument to avoid this
The Commission has run 15 studies on different biofuel
crops, which on average conclude that over the next decade
Europe's biofuels policies might have an indirect impact equal
to 4.5 million hectares of land -- an area the size of Denmark.
If that was gained by clearing wild land, as economics often
dictate, it could result in a one-off release of at least 200
million tonnes of carbon -- about the same as the annual
fossil-fuel emissions of Germany, according to Reuters
Environment campaigners and many politicians want some kind
of disincentive applied to biofuels from food crops to reflect
Industry argues the science is flawed and that the issue
could be tackled by a major overhaul of agricultural strategy to
improve productivity. But mostly it is eager for some sort of
clarity by which to plan its investments.
Oettinger said the science was still very uncertain.
"It's very difficult to have a detailed balance of this
process acre-by-acre," he said. "We need more time to come up
with the best proposal."
He did not reveal his options for tackling ILUC.
One EU source said the Commission would look at various
options, including raising the greenhouse gas savings threshold
for biofuels that can be counted towards the EU's goal of
getting 10 percent of road fuels from renewable sources by 2020.
Other options include a penalty factor for biofuels with a
high ILUC impact, or additional "sustainability criteria" to
reduce that impact.
"The last step will be a proposal from (climate
commissioner) Connie Hedegaard and myself, in July next year,
before the summer break," said Oettinger.
(Editing by James Jukwey)