Multiple-Authorship blog platform on issues related to sugarcane cultivation and industrial applications
This is our last post of the year. 2016 will definitely go down in history as an eventful year, both on the political and policy levels. I hope you will all get to disconnect from work, rest, and enjoy the Winter Holidays with families and friends.
The Commission had promised us a ‘year of delivery’, and it did deliver indeed. We hadn’t seen such an amount of proposals in years – this is likely to keep us busy through 2017 and beyond. It’s not all perfect, but we know what we have to work with now.
We often hear in Brussels that the Juncker Commission is very ‘political’. But the downside of being ‘political’ is that you can be tempted to shut an eye on the facts and give in to pure political considerations instead, regardless of the actual consequences. This is precisely what happened with biofuels in the proposed legislation on renewable energy, and the decision to significantly reduce the use of all first generation biofuels, regardless of their GHG emission performance.
So, in 2017 our job is going to be to try and put back some nuance into the proposed legislation for 2030. In particular, we are going to try and convince policymakers that a black and white approach to conventional biofuels, while easier to understand, will not solve the problem of transport emissions and might actually make it worse. The problem is that many policymakers are still ‘traumatized’ by the never-ending discussions around indirect land-use change and do not want to reopen the debate. NGOs on the other hand are trying to convince everyone that only e-mobility can reduce emissions in transport, and that biofuels consist in taking people’s food and running your car with it.
Reality is a bit different. Yes, there are some conventional biofuels whose sustainability is uncertain, but not all of them. You just need to have a look at the latest studies to see it (hint: one of these, known as ‘GLOBIOM’ was commissioned by… the Commission). And guess what: sugarcane ethanol is one of the most sustainable biofuels even when ILUC is considered. The problem is that the Commission felt under so much pressure from public opinion that it did not fight it and adopted instead this simplistic narrative. Now we have to go and explain to people that the most common misconceptions on biofuels are not always true, especially when it comes to sugarcane ethanol, and why the proposed policies have a big chance of backfiring.
Despite the task at hand, we are really looking forward to 2017. We will be hearing more about Mercosur too, with a first civil society meeting scheduled for mid-January and another round of negotiations in March. We’re hopeful that progress can be made on the deal over the next few months and will follow closely the debate.
Thanks again for reading us and have a nice holiday!
Are we not losing sight of the main objective: reduce GHG emissions from transport?
My feeling after having read and digested the new proposal on the Renewable Energy Directive is that by 2030 there will probably not be a massive change in how much we emit from our transportation activities.
These are my doubts:
Trajectory is not realistic – I doubt that the trajectory proposed for the phase out of conventional biofuels will be actually feasible. Don’t take me wrong, I am very much in favour of advanced biofuels – some of UNICA’s members produce them – and I think it is good to have a specific sub-target for fuel suppliers. But, my question is: will advanced biofuels be able to replace the conventional biofuels at the rhythm foreseen by the Commission? I don’t think so! Advanced biofuels production often relies on conventional biofuels existing investment, infrastructures, biomass. This basis will not be there, after years of legislative instability and yet another change proposed last week, the situation is already looking gloomy. As a biofuel producer I would probably not dare to invest again in the sector under such premises.
Risk of more fossil fuels – In fact, I see the risk of more use of fossil fuels when conventional biofuels cannot be replaced with advanced!!! Certainly, it will not be electricity to come to the rescue. Also here, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think electric vehicles are in competition with biofuels. At least not in the foreseeable future! The Commission did not even go for a big push for electrification of transport as its recent narrative suggested. As I see it, we will end up, in perhaps other 20 years, with hybrid cars which can run with electricity and biofuels. Nor will come to the rescue other alternative fuels. Member States showed already during the negotiations on the Alternative Fuels infrastructure deployment directive, that they do not want to be told how to promote alternative fuels. So, no mandatory targets and national plans were to be submitted to the Commission on 18 November this year. We will have to wait until the end of the year to see how much countries are committed on this front.
GHG emission reduction target – I am very much in favour of the blending mandate. I think it is the right approach which keeps the focus on the main goal of reducing emission. But what about leaving fuel suppliers free to simply choose the less emitting fuels to meet their 6.8% target? This would have finally recognised and given a role to bioethanol, which is conventional but actually reduces GHG emissions and has a low ILUC impact, as assessed by the Commission itself. I think this would have been feasible from a scientific perspective, but unfortunately not so much on a political one, based on public misconceptions (see my blog on ‘Why science matters’ here).
Now, my question remains: how are we going to reduce emissions from transport in the next decade?
I look forward to the beginning of negotiations in the institutions and I will be happy to bring the positive example of Brazil, where sugarcane ethanol, one of the best performing conventional biofuels, is actually reducing transport emissions, improving the agricultural sector and creating the conditions for the next generation of biofuels to develop and become commercially viable.