The European Commission (EC) has proposed limiting the amount of food crop-based biofuel that can count toward the European Union’s renewable energy targets for 2020. A 2009 EC Directive has set mandatory consumption targets of 20 percent renewable energy overall and 10 percent renewable energy in the transport sector. The proposal would cap the contribution of so-called “first-generation” ethanol and biodiesel at 5 percent of the transport sector’s target.

Responding to the original directive’s call for a review, the EC has determined that greenhouse gas (GHG) performance calculations for biofuels should consider the indirect land-use change (ILUC) that occurs when biofuel crops displace food or feed production onto non-agricultural land. The EC’s proposal thus aims to address this discrepancy and “start the transition to biofuels that deliver substantial greenhouse gas savings.” The commission has also expressed a continued goal of protecting existing investments until 2020.

Using the new limits and an enhanced incentive scheme, the proposal thus seeks to (i) limit the contribution of conventional biofuels toward the renewable energy targets; (ii) raise the GHG saving threshold for new installations; (iii) improve the GHG performance of biofuel production processes; (iv) encourage increased market penetration of advanced biofuels—such as those derived from algae, straw or waste—by allowing them to contribute more to the targets; and (v) improve GHG emissions reporting by requiring fuel suppliers and member states to report the ILUC emissions of biofuels.

“For biofuels to help us combat climate change, we must use truly sustainable biofuels,” said Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard in an October 17, 2012, press release. “We must invest in biofuels that achieve real emission cuts and do not compete with food. We are of course not closing down first generation biofuels, but we are sending a clear signal that future increases in biofuels must come from advanced biofuels. Everything else will be unsustainable.”