Renewable Energy Directive: ‘A lose-lose for farmers and climate change’

The agreement on the Renewable Energy Directive reached in the early hours of this morning (Thursday, June 14) has been described as “the worst type of incoherent policy making” by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

ICSA president Patrick Kent said that neither the interests of European agriculture nor significant reductions in transport emissions have prevailed from the agreement.

“The outcome is an improvement on the original proposal and on the EU Parliament position because it gives member states until 2020 to increase crop-based biofuels up to 7% – but that doesn’t alter the fact that the original EU Commission proposal was based on false logic and flawed science,” Kent said.

In reality this is lose-lose for farmers and for climate change mitigation.

The ICSA president said that, while this is bad for climate change, it is even worse for farmers in Europe.

“At a time when the CAP budget is being cut, this policy u-turn is undermining an outlet for EU farm produce worth over €6 billion per annum.”

Kent added that the situation is all the more frustrating given that cereal prices are at historically-low levels because global inventories are high.

‘Ceasing production altogether’

“Rather than causing food price spikes, crop-based biofuels are needed to help put a floor under producer prices – which, if allowed to fall further, will ultimately result in EU farmers reducing or ceasing production altogether,” he said.

“The original Renewable Energy Directive was based on the logical position that crop-based biofuels reduced emissions, reduced dependence on fossil fuel imports and supported European rural communities.”

The president explained that an issue emerged from this, namely that unsustainable palm oil imports took some of the space that should have been for EU crop biofuels.

While the outcome of these negotiations acknowledges this to some extent with a phase-out of palm oil by 2030, there was no need to undermine sustainable crop-based biofuels as well, and shrug it off as collateral damage.

The EU Commission proposal was to reduce the first-generation biofuel mandate from 7% (having previously been reduced from 10%) to 3.8% – which means the amount of crop-based biofuels that could be counted towards achieving renewable energy targets, according to the ICSA.

The European Parliament position was to allow member states to count the amount of crop-based biofuels used in 2017 as their percentage and the final compromise allows them to use the 2020 figure, provided it doesn’t exceed 7%.

However, the deal also included an increase in the binding target for renewable energy to 32% by 2030 which includes a 14% target for transport energy.

The farmers’ group contends that, while some believe that electric vehicles will enable that target to be met, there is “no logic to curtailing a very sustainable solution for today’s fleet” which is still overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuel powered vehicles.

Concluding, Kent said: “While some urban commuters might eventually switch to electric vehicles, there is no immediate prospect of heavy vehicles changing radically. So, in effect, the restriction on biofuels contradicts the ambition on renewables.”