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Bio-fuelling Poverty:
Why the EU renewable-fuel target may be disastrous for poor people


1 November 2007

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The road to sustainable transport?

In January of this year, the European Commission published its Renewable Energy Roadmap, proposing a mandatory target that biofuels must provide ten per cent of member states’ transport fuels by 2020.1 This target is creating a scramble to supply in the South, posing a serious threat to vulnerable people at risk from land-grabbing, exploitation, and deteriorating food security. It is unacceptable that poor people in developing countries bear the costs of emissions reductions in the EU. To avoid this, the Commission must include social standards in its sustainability framework, and develop mechanisms by which the ten per cent target can be revised if it is found to be contributing to the destruction of vulnerable people’s livelihoods.

The target was agreed in principle by the Council in March, on the condition that it is reached sustainably. In response, the Commission launched a consultation in the spring, proposing a definition of sustainability that included some environmental principles but no social principles.2 Finally, in September, the European Parliament provided an opinion calling for a mandatory certification scheme which would ensure that biofuels ‘do not cause, directly or indirectly…social problems such as rising food prices and the displacement of people’.3 The Commission is now in the process of drafting its legislative proposal, expected on 5 December, that will specify how ‘sustainable’ biofuels will be defined, and what support measures they will qualify for.

  1. This is on an energy content basis – meaning that ten per cent of transport energy should come from biofuels, not ten per cent of transport fuel volume. Because biofuels have a lower energy density than fossil fuels, this means that the volume of biofuels required to meet the target will be more than ten per cent.
  2. ‘Biofuels issues in the new legislation on the promotion of renewable energy’, public consultation exercise, April–May 2007, Energy and Transport Directorate-General, Brussels: European Commission, 2007.
  3. ‘Report on the Roadmap for Renewable Energy in Europe’, Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, Rapporteur: Britta Thomsen, Brussels: European Parliament, 2007.

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