A brief summary of key agrofuels policy developments in 2010

In 2010, the agrofuels debate centred on growing evidence showing that iLUC could significantly reduce greenhouse gas saving potential of agrofuels, when compared with fossil fuels.
In August 2010, each EU Member State[1] was obliged to submit a National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) specifying how European governments plan to achieve the RED their target of 10% renewable transport energy, by 2020. Analysis of the NREAPs confirmed suspicions that nearly all of this target (an approximate 8.8 per cent share of total transport energy by the year 2020[2]), would be met through additional[3] first generation agrofuel[4]  production in developing countries.  First generation agrofuels require vast areas of additional land or intensification of existing land use, often resulting in direct and indirect LUC.  It is anticipated that 50 per cent of ethanol and 41 per cent of biodiesel used in 2020 will be imported[5], often from developing countries such as Indonesia and Brazil.

A wealth of studies[6] has found that agrofuels can have a number of negative social and environmental impacts, caused in particular by iLUC. These impacts can be grouped into four 4 main categories:

1. Increase in greenhouse gas emissions
2. Increased pressure on pressure on food production and prices (the ‘Food not Fuel’ debate)
3. Land, resource and/or livelihood loss , and other negative social impacts on local communities, and abuse of human rights
4. Biodiversity loss
(for further details see DTE EU Agrofuels Policy update, DTE Agrofuels policy update, January 2011).

Alerted to the risks, the European Commission released a report [7], in December 2010, recognising that urgent action was required to specifically address impacts of iLUC in sustainability assessment. The Commission stated that a precautionary approach would be required but was criticised for its decision to delay further action for 6 months until an Impact Assessment into ILUC had been carried out. Currently, the EU legislative framework does not take account impacts of iLUC in its sustainability assessments. The Commission will modify current legislation to include impacts of iLUC within sustainability criteria, according to the findings of the Impact Assessment . The Commission is due to announce these changes in July this year.

See DTE agrofuels policy update, July 2011, for more recent information on policy developments.


[1] member state of the European Union is a state that is party to treaties of the European Union (EU) and has thereby undertaken the privileges and obligations that EU membership entails. For more information visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Member_state_of_the_European_Union

[2] Atanasiu, B. 2010. Flash Forward on Bioenergy in 2020: Facts and uncertainties on bioenergy role in the National Renewable Energy Action Plans. Available from: www.ieep.eu  and www.biomassfutures.eu

[3] The term ‘additional’ implies that the amount of biofules required specifically to fulfill the RED mandate, is in addition to the volumes already being used by Member States in the year 2008.

[4] First generation agrofuels are agrofuels made from sugar, starch and vegetable oils. 

[5] See http://www.ieep.eu/assets/731/Anticipated_Indirect_Land_Uce_Change_Associated_with_Expanded_Use_of_Biofuels_and_Bioliquids_in_the_EU_-_An_Analysis_of_the_National_Renewable_Energy_Action_Plans.pdf

[6] Studies include the Gallagher Review; Impacts of the EU biofuel target on agricultural markets and land use: a comparative modelling assessmen and Indirect Land Use Change from increased biofuels demand; Global Trade and Environmental Impact Study of the EU Biofuels Mandate; The Impact Of Land Use Change On Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Biofuels And Bioliquids Literature Review

[7] Report from the Commission on indirect land-use change related to biofuels and bioliquids(COM(2010) 811 final