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COP 23 – We are here!

By Géraldine Kutas posted Nov 12, 2017
• Visit UNICA’s booth at COP23, Bonn zone • Attend our discussion on how biofuels can fight climate change and promote sustainable development at the Brazilian Pavilion on 15 November at 14:00 CET with speakers from ApexBrasil, SE4ALL / Below 50, the World Bank, and UNICA.


  • Visit UNICA’s booth at COP23 in Bonn, Germany
  • Attend our discussion on how biofuels can fight climate change and promote sustainable development at the Brazilian Pavilion on 15 November at 14:00 CET with speakers from ApexBrasil, SE4ALL / Below 50, the World Bank, and UNICA. 

Last year was the warmest year recorded to date, and 2017 is on course to become the second or third warmest year, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. There were many weather-related natural disasters in 2017: the Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active on record, major monsoon floods caused hundreds of deaths in the Indian subcontinent, and even the Republic of Ireland experienced some of the most extreme weather the island has seen in decades. Fundamentally, climate change threatens crops, wildlife and freshwater supplies. At the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, the host country Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said, “The need for urgency is obvious. Our world is in distress from extreme weather events caused by climate change.”

The progress achieved at COP21 in Paris was significant, but agreements alone are not enough. We need action. While most of the United Nations countries have already ratified the agreement, the momentum needs to be sustained, and ambitious policies need to be implemented in order to curb GHG emissions and limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is now time for countries to think about their renewed pledges in time for the COP24 meeting next year where participants will take stock of national progress toward achieving climate goals.

EU’s 2030 target of cutting emissions by 40% is “very robust”, according to the European Commission’s climate negotiator Elina Bardram. However, EU’s progress against that target will depend on implementing the policies that will help achieve different sub-targets, such as those in the transport sector.

Transport accounts for a quarter of all EU GHG emissions in the EU, 70% of which come specifically from road transport. To address this sector, the Commission recently published the second batch of legislative proposals in its Mobility Package “Europe on the Move”, including the post 2020 CO2 standards with the target of 30% fewer CO2 emissions from new passenger cars by 2030.

The 30% CO2 reduction is certainly a much needed step towards decarbonizing the sector, but will this be enough to meet the Commission’s unofficial transport sub-target of a 60% CO2 reduction by 2050? The Renewables Energy Directive (REDII) provides an opportunity to complement the Mobility Package - which decarbonizes the vehicle technology - by decarbonizing transport fuel. This sector must be addressed holistically in order to reach the 2050 scenario and fuels are an inextricable part of the solution.

Unfortunately, not only has the 10% transport target in the first RED been removed, but REDII specifically proposes to reduce conventional biofuels from the current 7% cap to 3.8%. Instead of cutting conventional biofuels the EU should allow for cleaner more sustainable fuels that are readily available and can make a different in the short and mid-term decarbonization efforts. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol can and should play a bigger role in the EU as it reduces GHG emissions by 70% compared to fossil fuels, and has a low ILUC impact as assessed by the Commission itself.

This is already happening on a global scale. In Brazil, the use of bioethanol in flex-fuel vehicles has led to a decrease of 370m tonnes in carbon emissions in just 13 years – the equivalent of carbon absorption of 2.5 billion trees over 20 years. 

It is important to look at the transportation sector in a comprehensive manner and deploy all available solutions now, while in parallel investing in future fuels and technologies if we are to meet the overall Paris Agreement targets. Fuels are a critical to the solution, and conventional biofuels in particular have the potential to significantly decarbonize the sector today.

Come visit the UNICA booth in Bonn to learn more about how this is working in practice in Brazil and around the world.

COP23

UNICA Booth is located in the Bonn zone, exhibition area, 1st floor in front of the coffee bar.

On 15 November at 14:00 CET the Brazilian Pavilion will host a panel discussion entitled “Biofuels: fighting climate change and beyond”.

  • Ambassador Roberto Jaguaribe, the president of the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil), will tell us more about how Brazil can cooperate with other countries to help them in their transition sustainable biofuels.
  • Gerard Ostheimer, Global Lead for the SE4ALL Sustainable Bioenergy High Impact Opportunity / Below 50, will address the deployment of biofuels as a cleaner and affordable fuel, especially in developing countries.
  • Celine Ramstein, Climate Change Specialist at the World Bank will explain how carbon-price mechanisms can stimulate the use of biofuels, creating a higher income for renewable energy producers.
  • Géraldine Kutas from UNICA will provide concrete examples of the contribution of Brazilian sugarcane ethanol to climate change mitigation and of social inclusion, revealing data on IDH, income and education rate in municipalities where sugarcane is produced.

Mercosur: sweeten the deal

By Géraldine Kutas posted Nov 07, 2017
The EU-Mercosur trade deal is a once in a generation opportunity, don’t let it slip away. Sweeten the deal!

The EU-Mercosur trade deal is close to the finishing line and the final breakthrough might still come by the end of the year. This trade agreement between the EU and the four Mercosur Members  - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - would be the largest bilateral trade deal the EU has ever brokered. The deal would indeed be unprecedented in many respects: It would be the first time that the economies of Mercosur open up to a major trading block and also by far the largest deal between the EU and emerging economies.  

Now is a unique window of opportunity and there is strong political will on the side of the Mercosur countries to get the deal finalised. This would not only open up a huge market for EU products and services, but also send another strong signal, after the successful trade negotiations with Japan earlier this year, that the EU is seizing its role as the world’s foremost trading power.

However, there still remain some stumbling blocks that could put the deal at risk. Not surprisingly, the agriculture sector is the main point of contention as the Mercosur countries are very competitive in products such as sugar and ethanol, in which the EU has major defensive interests.

Sugarcane field

But trade is not a zero sum game and its benefits cannot be measured by the increase of exports alone. Increased access to Brazilian sugarcane products through the Mercosur deal is an example where the benefits for EU industry go far beyond what the trade balance indicates. Indeed, as René Van Sloten, Executive Director Industrial Policy at Cefic, the European Chemical Industry Council, said: “including sugar and ethanol into the Mercosur trade deal would offer the possibility for a win-win outcome for both sides.”

EU-Mercosur benefits of including SC products

So how could EU industry benefit from increased access to raw sugarcane products?

Sugar and ethanol are important sustainable feedstocks for the European chemical industry. Products such as plastics, paint and coatings all require feedstock which today is mainly sourced from fossil fuels, but that could be replaced by ethanol. Also sugar is a key ingredient for the bio-industry, being indispensable for biotechnological processes. Further, sugarcane ethanol has tremendous potential to decarbonise the transportation sector, which currently account for almost a quarter of EU GHG emissions. Including sugar and ethanol into the deal would help EU industry getting the right quality at a fair price. According to René van Sloten, EU industry has to endure 40-60% extra costs for ethanol because of import tariffs, in contrast fossil fuel ethanol can enter the EU without any tariff. 

Consequently the EU chemical industry could produce at lower costs which would make it more competitive. This would also have a domino effect down the supply chain, making products cheaper for business and consumers.

EU-Mercosur tariff

Brazilian sugarcane is also among the most sustainable renewable feedstocks with the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) saving potential. Gaining access to this feedstock would not only help European industry to lower its GHG emissions but also to boost the bio-based industry. This industry has an enormous potential to contribute to the circular economy with new products and solutions.  Gaining better access to renewable feedstock would help industry to increase its investments in bio-based production plants in Europe, which in turn would increase demand for bioethanol also to the benefit of European producers.

Europe should take these benefits into account that the inclusion of sugarcane products into the trade deal can bring and not only look at the defensive interests of the EU agriculture sector.

The EU-Mercosur trade deal is a once in a generation opportunity, don’t let it slip away. Sweeten the deal!

Don’t derail the decarbonisation of transport

By Géraldine Kutas posted Oct 20, 2017
Climate change does not wait for the roll out of new technologies - we need to use every tool that is at our disposal today.

If Europe wants to get anywhere close to hitting its target of a 40% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction by 2030, it will need to tackle transport emissions, which account for about 25% of total EU GHG emissions. To further complicate the issue, road transport is set to grow 30% by 2030. We need available solutions that are deployable now if we are to mitigate global warming. Sustainable biofuels are one of the few available solutions that can help today to reduce carbon emissions in transport. In Brazil for example, the use of bioethanol led to a decrease of 370m tonnes in carbon emissions in just 13 years, which is more than Spain emitted in 2015. The average life span of a car is 10 years and the existing fleet runs primarily on fossil fuel. In fact, only 2.8% of the existing EU fleet is comprised of alternative energy vehicles. This means that in the short and possibly mid-term, introducing a higher ethanol blend is one of the only realistic options to lower GHG emissions in transport. Sustainable sugarcane ethanol results in at least 70% fewer GHG emissions than petrol, and is available now!

Despite these facts, the Environment Committee in the European Parliament risks torpedoing this solution by confirming the phase out of crop-based biofuels. This would not only kill this sector in Europe but also any prospect of producing advanced biofuels, which often depends on the same companies and feedstocks for production. Not to mention, of course, any real shot at decarbonizing the transport sector in the short-term. This extreme policy change, only two years after a framework for biofuels was agreed upon and before the effect of the policy can be properly assessed, will discourage  investment in the EU. The key arguments for this policy change, namely Indirect Land-Use Change (ILUC) and concerns that biofuels lead to higher food prices are based on non-verifiable assumptions that should not form the basis for the phase out of a whole industry. Not all first generation biofuels are created equal and sugarcane ethanol is one of the most sustainable biofuels available.

In order to ensure that the EU can make a real contribution to the decarbonisation of transport, the Environment Committee should:

  •  Set a renewables target in transport to at least 20%;
  • Keep the current cap of 7% for highly sustainable biofuels, which is essential to the decarbonisation of European transportation;
  • Evaluate first-generation biofuels based on their GHG savings and sustainability criteria;
  • Not include ILUC estimates when calculating the GHG emission savings of crop-based biofuels, as long as a predictable methodology based on verified data and sound review process is in place.

Climate change does not wait for the roll out of new technologies - we need to use every tool that is at our disposal today.

Is the EU serious about sugar reform?

By Géraldine Kutas posted Oct 02, 2017
Last Saturday marked a milestone in changing the EU sugar regime. Lifting the European sugar quota is an important step towards a more competitive European sugar industry.. This measure will however remain incomplete if the sector continues to be protected from international markets.

There is hardly a single sector in the EU that is as protected as much as sugar. For decades the EU sugar beet industry benefited, together with other measures, of minimum prices and extremely high import tariffs. At a current international price for raw sugar of €255 per tonne, the import tariff stands at a whopping €339 a tonne, meaning that world global sugar producers are effectively locked out of the European market.

The fact that the EU allows imports from a number of countries – such as least developed countries, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and countries with which the EU has a trade agreement – does not make much difference. For a start, these countries are generally less competitive than Brazil. But importantly, those agreements are causing trade distortions rather than encouraging a level playing field.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the true costs of the protectionism of the sugar sector:

-        it makes raw materials for EU industries more expensive, in times of increasing global demand.  This includes of course the food industry, but also other industries critical to European competitiveness, such as the chemical and pharmaceutical industries that need sugar as raw material;

-        it damages EU importers and refiners of sugar cane, leading the famous British sugar refiner Tate & Lyle to become one of the only companies to advocate for Brexit;

-        it damages the EU’s reputation as a supporter of global and fair trade;

-        it prevents European sugar industry from becoming truly competitive, and lastly,

-        EU consumers are paying a much higher price for sugar than they would if the trade in sugar were free.

Last Saturday marked a milestone in changing the EU sugar regime. Lifting the European sugar quota is an important step towards a more competitive European sugar industry. This measure will however remain incomplete if the sector continues to be protected from international markets. In fact, lifting the sugar quota alone will turn the EU sugar industry into a mercantilist model: without any limits on sugar production and no serious competition, European sugar producers may be tempted to dump surplus sugar out onto world markets.

The Mercosur trade deal is an opportunity to make a further step towards a competitive and fair sugar regime that does not only work in favour of the European sugar sector but also the consumer and downstream industry. The EU should use this opportunity now that it can shape the conditions together with a strong trading partner.    

Sugar - the sweet spot of an EU-Mercosur trade deal

By Géraldine Kutas posted Sep 05, 2017
Not including sugarcane products in the Mercosur negotiations could jeopardise one of the most beneficial trade deals for the EU

EU trade policy is on a roll. After the conclusions of a deal with Japan, the largest bilateral Free Trade Agreement yet, the EU has set its eyes on a deal with Mercosur. Such a deal offers huge potential for EU industry: it would greatly improve access to emerging markets of 250m+ consumers and many of Europe’s key sectors –automotive, machinery, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, but also agricultural and food producers such as garlic, olive oil, wine and pears – are set to benefit. Since this would be the first trade deal that Mercosur closes with another major trading block, the EU would have a first mover advantage, allowing EU businesses and products to establish themselves in the Mercosur markets before other competitors can move in. Altogether it would strengthen the EU’s role as a trading power and create jobs and growth.

Negotiations have historically been slow, but the Mercosur countries are showing unprecedented political will and strong alignment to get a deal done. This year talks progressed on many issues such as sustainable development, technical barriers to trade and public procurement. A measure of Mercosur’s willingness can be seen in opening up its procurement markets to European business – the first time ever it has opened these up to third parties.

However, some so-called ‘sensitive’ areas have not yet been included in the negotiations, in particular sugarcane products – sugar and ethanol. For Brazil this is critical. The sector is highly competitive and provides more than one million jobs. Brazil is the world’s largest producer and exporter of sugar but accounts for only 4% of all EU sugar imports, so there is clear room for growth with little to fear. In comparison, Mauritius alone accounts for 28% of EU sugar imports and EPA/EBA countries for 54%. Increasing sugar imports from Brazil will promote social and economic development. Brazilian legislation stipulates that sugar exports from Brazil to Europe be sourced in the Northeast region of the country, one of most vulnerable regions of the country. The GDP per capita of this region was US$5,834 in 2015 (US$ 8,757 for Brazil). Compare that with the US$9,252 GDP of Mauritius in the same period[1]. In a recent intervention in Brussels, Brazil’s chief negotiator Ambassador Ronaldo Costa made very clear that he “could not return home without sugarcane on the table”.

Also European industry would gain from imports of Brazil’s sugarcane products. Ethanol is an important feedstock for the chemical industry and today the high tariffs on bioethanol puts the European bioindustry at a disadvantage. In contrast there are practically no import duties on fossil inputs. The same is true for sugar which is a key raw material for the European food and drink industry, but also for the chemical sector.

So far the European sugar industry is rejecting any concessions to Brazilian sugarcane, claiming the industry is highly subsidised. In particular, they confuse and miss-label the high economic efficiency, industrial integration and product diversification of Brazilian sugar mills as cross-subsidisation. In its 2013-14 WTO notification Brazil reported a total aggregate measurement of support (AMS) for sugarcane of 0.24% of the value of its sugar production. The EU reported an AMS of 0.48%, or double, in the same period. OECD measurements of producer single commodity transfer show that over the past five years (2012-2016) support granted to sugar producers in Europe was 22 times higher than that granted in Brazil[2].

Successful trade agreements require give and take, and Mercosur countries are prepared to grant important advantages to EU industries, more than they have ever offered before. If the EU really wants to increase its access to the major growth markets of Mercosur and reap the benefits of a close partnership in South America it needs to also be open to concessions in the areas that are of critical importance for Brazil and other Mercosur countries. The EU cannot have its sugar-coated cake and eat it.

 

 

 

The original text of this blogpost was published in the Parliament Magazine website on September 5, 2017.


[1] World Bank and IBGE

[2] average 16.89%of the value of production in the EU compared to 0.74% in Brazil

(Re)committing to the Paris Agreement? Europe needs to lead by example

By Géraldine Kutas posted Jul 14, 2017
As MEP Bas Eickhout’s stated, European policymakers are only credible in criticising Trump if they can themselves deliver at home. Let’s hope they return to Brussels in September with emboldened ambitions when it comes to transport emissions.

As the US president visited Paris for Bastille Day celebrations, his host his rolled out all of the paraphernalia of state, the pomp and ceremony so reportedly beloved by his American counterpart, in a charm offensive many have suggested was also an effort to get the latter to reconsider his stance on the Paris Agreement. And it seems to be working – Trump’s statement during the joint press conference that “something could happen with respect to the Paris accord: we’ll see what happens; we will talk about that in the coming period of time”, was not insignificant.

Is this a coming in from the cold? Did the president keenly feel the chill wind of isolation at the G20 which in many respects became the G19, especially on climate change? No-one expects Trump to abandon wholesale his fossil-focused energy policy, but there was a clear softening of rhetoric during the Paris visit – quite the coup for neophyte Macron.

Macron famously parodied Trump’s “make America great again” rhetoric with his quip of making the planet great again. With recent announcements of France’s ambition to ban the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040, Macron is clearly positioning himself as a European leader in environmental stewardship and clean transport.

One of the EU’s signature initiatives in demonstrating its leadership on climate change is the Clean Energy Package that proposes measures towards clean energy transition. But the Commission’s proposal for a 27% target for renewable energy is too low. Proposals by European Parliament committees to increase that target to 35% or 45% are a step in the right direction.

Transport is responsible for fully one quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Which is why it makes no sense for the Commission to lump all conventional biofuels in together and propose cutting their maximum share in the transport mix from 7% to 3.8%. We have repeatedly stated that biofuels need to be considered on their performance, not their source.

Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is one of the best-performing biofuels, cutting GHG emission when placed in the EU market by more than 70% compared to petrol, and still by more than half (55%), even when the GLOBOIM study’s ILUC factors are taken into account. Stated concerns about land use change are therefore no grounds on which to justify the reduction of sustainable biofuels such as Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.

Integrating sustainable biofuels now into European transport in significant numbers will really help EU leaders achieve 2030 targets, paving the way for more ambitious 2050 targets. Just look at Brazil, where the deployment of sugarcane ethanol in flex-fuel cars has directly cut transport CO2–equivalent emissions by 370m tonnes in just 13 years.

It’s clear that it is perfectly feasible to significantly cut transport emissions if we use the clean technologies available today. If the EU is serious about meeting its own Paris Agreement commitments, it must therefore adopt serious and bold transport emissions reduction targets. As MEP Bas Eickhout’s stated, European policymakers are only credible in criticising Trump if they can themselves deliver at home. It would be an irony indeed if the Americans came back into the Paris Agreement fold, only for the EU to spectacularly wimp out on its own targets.

But the very real fear is that Member States will reject more ambitious targets. Macron will need to brandish his environmental credentials by not letting that happen. And EU policymakers should take advantage of their summer holidays to ponder on Eickhout’s comment. Let’s hope they return to Brussels in September with emboldened ambitions when it comes to transport emissions.

Wishing you all a great summer!

What’s your first-generation biofuels literacy?

By Géraldine Kutas posted Apr 22, 2017
On April 22, we celebrate International Mother Earth Day. Many people want to take action on that occasion by planting a tree or informing themselves on climate change solutions and environmental conservation. However, in today’s era of post-truth politics and information overload, we often struggle to make sound judgements about what is best for the environment and what is agenda-driven rhetoric. Same goes for lawmakers who are in charge of setting the policies that will lead us to a more environmentally friendly economy and lifestyle.


Icon of a globe with a leaf growing out of it. Today we celebrate International Mother Earth Day. A day when we  should all stop  and think of how the Earth’s ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance and try to also understand how our actions  impact the environment, and ultimately our survival. This year’s theme set by the UN - "Environmental & Climate Literacy" – couldn’t be timelier.

Many people want to take action on Earth Day by planting a tree or informing themselves on climate change solutions and environmental conservation. However, in today’s era of post-truth politics and information overload, we often struggle to make sound judgements about what is best for the environment  and what is agenda-driven rhetoric. Same goes for lawmakers who are in charge of setting the policies that will lead us to a more environmentally friendly economy and lifestyle.

A perfect example is the issue of conventional biofuels. First generation biofuels have become the victim of misinformation and emotional headlines stating that all food-based biofuels are responsible for hunger and deforestation. The fact is that not all conventional biofuels are created equal, and that climate change itself threatens food security and ecosystems far more than biofuels.

While countries around the world have made enormous strides towards fighting climate change, some of the proposed policies in Europe lack the supporting evidence to justify their adoption. For example, the new Renewables Energy Directive aims to cut the use of food-based biofuels from the current 7% to 3.8% by 2030. MEPs and EU Member States have already started examining the proposal. In the spirit of today’s theme, I urge them to consider the evidence that will help to better understand and inform the options that Europe has to reduce GHG emissions in transports, and reach its Paris Agreement targets. My hope is that the following undisputable facts serve to add sound science to the debate regarding first-generation biofuels, and in particular, one of the most sustainable and available alternatives to conventional gasoline – Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.

  • Brazilian sugar cane sold in Europe achieves among the highest GHG emission savings of all biofuels produced at scale: over 70% relative to fossil fuel alternatives and more than 55% when estimated ILUC emissions are accounted for.
  • It is sustainable throughout its full life-cycle. In sugarcane fields, carbon stocks amount to 60 tonnes of carbon per hectare (including above and below ground carbon stocks). Sugarcane only needs to be replanted about every six years which reduces tilling of land that releases carbon dioxide.
  • It has no role in the fuel vs food or deforestation debate. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is produced in biorefineries that generate sugar, clean fuel and bioelectricity. It occupies only 1.5% of all arable land in Brazil and is grown 2500 km away from the Amazon rainforest.

There is an urgent need to set the record straight, to listen to facts and not rhetoric, and to make logical choices for alternative fuels and the decarbonization of the transportation sector. Instead, the new Renewables Energy Directive has largely disregarded the evidence and intends to phase out first-generation biofuels completely. This effectively shuts the door to one of the cleanest and most sustainable energy sources to ensure low-emission mobility. 

Europe’s leaders often tout that the EU is a leader in the fight against climate change and environmental protection. However, the proposed biofuels legislation is in stark contrast to EU emission goals.  We should perhaps look outside our bubble and learn from other regions. Brazil has replaced more than 40% of its gasoline consumption with sugarcane ethanol, saving 370m tonnes of GHG emissions since 2003, and has done so in parallel with setting strict environmental laws to protect the tropical rainforest. The Agro-ecological Zoning for Sugarcane initiative limits the amount of land to be used for sugarcane to approximately 7.5% of Brazil’s territory, seven times more than what is currently used, and prohibits the clearance of native vegetation to expand sugarcane cultivation anywhere in the country.

Taking time to think about #EarthDay17 and all the benefits a clean environment provides, we should ask the critical questions regarding the choices Europe is making. In the name of "Environmental & Climate Literacy," these choices should be backed by evidence and not by false, emotional statements. As the UN puts it, “education is the foundation for progress,” and policy lacking scientific justification is the foundation for regression.

Not all biofuels are created equal...Thoughts on the proposed RED II

By Géraldine Kutas posted Mar 24, 2017
The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive represents a tremendous opportunity to foster the further development of clean energy in the European Union for decades to come. But the current proposal lacks ambition and is missing a key opportunity in helping to reach the Paris Agreement targets, especially with regards to the transportation sector.

The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive represents a tremendous opportunity to foster the further development of clean energy in the European Union (EU) for decades to come. The 2009 Directive has had a critical impact on increasing the share of renewables in the EU through binding targets, and a predictable overall framework for renewable energy implementation.

But the current proposal lacks ambition and is missing a key opportunity in helping to reach the Paris Agreement targets, especially with regards to the transportation sector, which accounts for almost a quarter of Europe’s GHG emissions. 

In my opinion, the critical flaws of the proposed Renewables Energy Directive as it stands are as follows:

  • The proposed target for renewables in transportation increases only 0.6% - from 10% currently to, in the best case scenario, 10.6% in 2030.
  • No distinction is made among conventional biofuels. Renewable fuels, which are sustainable and have superior environmental benefits, such as Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, are inappropriately lumped in with worse-performing biofuels.
  • Capping ALL conventional biofuels irrespective of their individual merits is not cost-effective or results-focused.
  • The technology needed to produce significant amounts of lignocellulosic biofuels at a commercial scale is not yet mature and the cost is very high – making the 3.6% target quite ambitious.

Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is classified as an advanced biofuel by the US EPA, and by California’s Air Resources Board, even when ILUC is considered. These are transparent, scientific and credible benchmarks. It achieves the highest GHG emission savings of all biofuels produced at scale (over 70% relative to fossil fuels, and more than 55% when accounting for ILUC emissions). We therefore call to distinguish biofuels based on GHG emissions savings, rather than on the feedstock used. More specifically, a strict sustainability criteria based on GHG emissions savings should be applied to all biofuels that are currently capped at 7%, and only those biofuels that fail to meet these criteria thresholds should be capped at 3.8% in 2030.

A complete overhaul of climate and energy policy is needed if we are to reach the ambitious EU emission reduction targets, and sustainable conventional biofuels need to play a key role. A comprehensive EU energy policy which incentivises and promotes sustainable conventional biofuels will help the EU to meet its key climate abatement and energy security objectives in 2030 and beyond.

Second-generation ethanol will not happen without a robust and healthy first-generation ethanol market to provide business certainty for the development of more advanced renewable fuels. We should and must think long-term and continue to invest in R&D, but we must also act now and consider and implement all of the available solutions in transitioning towards low-emission mobility. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol can provide the EU with environmentally-friendly transport fuel to help decarbonise road transport.

If Europe is to achieve its ambitious targets and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in transportation, the Commission should not pick winners. All sustainable alternatives should be promoted. 

Decarbonizing transport in a post-fact world

By Géraldine Kutas posted Feb 02, 2017
At Politico’s recent debate on decarbonizing Europe’s transport,Maroš Šefčovič said that there is an international consensus that first-generation biofuels should be phased out. This is simply not true. Many countries including Australia, Brazil and the US are all producers of 1G biofuels and have no intention of phasing out these important CO2-reducing petrol alternatives.

2016 was the warmest year on record since the industrial revolution. At Politico’s recent debate on decarbonizing Europe’s transport, that was held in Brussels, DuPont’s Jan Koninckx recognised that the most immediate way to decarbonise transport is through cleaner fuels.  He correctly said that if implemented, the European Commission’s proposed reduction of first-generation biofuels from 7% to a cap of 3.8% would result in increased European dependency on oil.

Maroš Šefčovič said, last week, that there is an international consensus that first-generation biofuels should be phased out. This is simply not true. Countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, India, Thailand and the US are all producers of first-generation biofuels and have no intention of phasing out these important CO2-reducing petrol alternatives. It is also important to note that none of these countries regard first- and second-generation biofuels as being in opposition with one another, as the European Commission seems to, but see them as complementary. This is exactly the spirit of the Biofuture Platform led by Brazil that was launched at COP22. The Biofuture Platform reflects the international consensus, and underscores the fact that the EU is, absurdly, the only major economy that is focused on phasing out first-generation biofuels.

This is precisely what Brazil’s Agriculture Minister emphasised during a recent roundtable discussion in Brussels. Brazil, Minister Maggi said, is committed to fighting climate change, and sugarcane ethanol is an important tool in its energy sustainability strategy. More than 40% of Brazil’s energy production comes from bioenergy and hydropower, and sugarcane is the number one source of renewable energy in the country. Minister Maggi advocated for the sustainability of first-generation biofuels, while welcoming the development of second-generation ethanol. He mentioned the Sugarcane Agro-Ecological Zoning, adopted in 2009, a law that prohibits the clearing of any type of native vegetation to plant sugarcane.

Vested interests in Europe are also pushing the falsehood that using first-generation biofuels means taking food from people’s mouths to run your car. This is a highly emotive accusation that has some European policymakers running scared. But while it makes a great headline, again, it is simply untrue. Swedish Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog said that she considered that differentiating conventional from advanced biofuels based on whether the feedstocks can be used to produce food is not an appropriate criterion, and does not make biofuels less or more sustainable. As Minister Maggi stated, there is absolutely no food-versus-fuel issue in Brazil in terms of the production of first-generation biofuels. Indeed, ethanol production accounts for only 1% of land use and Brazil is the world’s third largest agricultural product exporter.

Šefčovič has said that first-generation biofuels should be phased out, and has asked for innovation in the agriculture and chemical industries to deliver advanced biofuels. But the European Commission will not see the investments in second-generation biofuels it wants if policymakers do not also support traditional biofuels. You cannot kill the biofuels sector by eliminating first-generation biofuels and then expect it to rise miraculously phoenix-like from the ashes to deliver second-generation fuels.

If Europe is to achieve its ambitious targets and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in transportation, the Commission should not pick winners. All the sustainable alternatives should be promoted and the proposed indiscriminate 3.8% cap on first-generation biofuels must be abandoned. 

The ‘year of delivery’ comes to an end

By Géraldine Kutas posted Dec 22, 2016
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. The Commission had promised us a ‘year of delivery’, and it did deliver indeed.

Dear readers,

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!

Our Authors

 

Géraldine Kutas, Head of International Affairs & Senior International Adviser to the President of UNICA Géraldine Kutas
Head of International Affairs & Senior International Adviser to the President

 

Leticia Phillips, Representative-North AmericaLeticia Phillips
Representative, North America

 

Sugarcane Solutions Blog

COP 23 – We are here!

• Visit UNICA’s booth at COP23, Bonn zone • Attend our discussion on how biofuels can fight climate change and promote sustainable development at the Brazilian Pavilion on 15 November at 14:00 CET with speakers from ApexBrasil, SE4ALL / Below 50, the World Bank, and UNICA.

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