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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Europe to ban biofuels from forest lands

Europe May Ban Imports of Some Biofuel Crops

PARIS — In a sign of growing concern about the impact of supposedly “green” policies, European Union officials will propose a ban on imports of certain biofuels, according to a draft law to be unveiled next week.

If approved by European governments, the law would prohibit the importation of fuels derived from crops grown on certain kinds of land — including forests, wetlands or grasslands — into the 27-nation bloc.

The draft law would also require that biofuels used in Europe deliver “a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings.” That level is still under discussion.

Currently, most of the crops for biofuels used in Europe consist of rapeseed (commonly known as canola in the United States) grown in parts of Europe, according to Matt Drinkwater, a biofuels analyst at New Energy Finance in London. Europe also imports some palm oil from Southeast Asia, soy from Latin America, ethanol from Brazil, and produces some ethanol domestically using wheat and sugar beets, he said.

The ban would primarily affect palm oil and possibly the Latin American imports.

Amid rising prices for gasoline and diesel and worries about climate change, countries around the world have started using more fuels produced from crops or agricultural wastes.


But a flurry of studies has discredited some of the claims made by biofuel producers that the fuels help reduce greenhouse gases by reducing fossil fuel use and growing carbon-dioxide-consuming plants. Growing the crops and turning them into fuel can result in considerable environmental harm.

Not only is native vegetation, including tropical rain forests, being chopped down in places to plant the crops, but fossil fuels, like diesel for tractors, are often used to farm the crops. They also demand nitrogen fertilizer made largely with natural gas and consume huge amounts of water.

Already, the draining and deforesting of peatlands in Southeast Asia — mainly to make way for palm plantations — accounts for up to 8 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions, said Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.

In Indonesia, he said, more than 18 million hectares of forest, or 44 million acres, have already been cleared for palm oil developments. Environmental groups say the developments are endangering wildlife like the orangutan and the Sumatran tiger, and putting pressure on indigenous peoples who depend on the forests.

Last week, scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Washington also warned that biofuel production can result in environmental destruction, pollution and damage to human health.

Experts say certain types of fuels, particularly those made from agricultural wastes, still hold potential to improve the environment, but they add that governments will have to set and enforce standards for how the fuels are produced. With its new proposal, Europe appears to be moving ahead of the rest of the world in that task.

The draft law probably would have the greatest impact on palm oil growers in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, according to Mr. Drinkwater.

“Some developments in Southeast Asia will almost certainly be blocked by these provisions,” he said, adding that the rules would make it much harder to plant on recently deforested land or to export fuels whose production process cause significant amounts of greenhouse gases to be released.

But farmers growing corn for ethanol could also be affected, because the European rules contain provisions on preserving grasslands, said Mr. Drinkwater.

The text, which could change before European commissioners meet on Jan. 23 to adopt a final version, also emphasizes that areas like rain forests and lands with high levels of biodiversity should not be converted to growing biofuels.

The European Union does not want to completely abandon biofuels because they could still contribute to reducing Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels.

On Monday, in answer to a reporter’s question, an organization representing major growers of crops for biofuels in Malaysia said the E.U. should be cautious before imposing new rules. It said that farmers in the region were adopting more sustainable practices, and warned that restrictions on imports could cause trade tensions.

The draft law also says that biofuels should be tracked from origin to use “so that biofuels fulfilling the sustainability criteria can be identified and rewarded with a premium in the market.”

The measures are part of a plan for Europe to implement a binding target of making 10 percent of the transport fuels consumed by 2020 from renewable sources — most of which are expected to be biofuels.source:NY Times

My comment: It's not very surprising I'm strongly pro this plan. I hope this will pass, though I can see many reasons why it probably won't. But let's be positive :) I just think the part with the grassland should be included only if this grassland is important part of the local environment. Because otherwise, grassland is pretty much everything you see grass on, so it's not really specific. Well, anyway, I think this is definitely the way to more balanced and intelligent energy production. And we have to show developing countries that the price is not all that matters to us.

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