Assessing the outcomes of the U.S.-EU biofuels working group
On February 22, GMF hosted a roundtable meeting on the European proposal for a new EU directive on the use of renewable energy and to assess the outcomes of the February 21 meeting of the U.S.-EU biofuels working group under the U.S.-EU Strategic Energy Cooperation. The speakers featured Alexandra Langenheld, a national expert on regulatory policy and promotion of renewable energy at the European Commission's Directorate General for Energy and Transport, and Jeff Skeer from the office of policy and international affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy. Franz Matzner from the Land and Forests Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council provided comments. The meeting was moderated by GMF Transatlantic Fellow Tim Searchinger.
Alexandra Langenheld laid out the key aspects of the new EU proposal. It would mandate member states to increase their shares of renewable energies to 20 percent by 2020 and would set a separate target to increase biofuels use to 10 percent of transport fuel consumption. The Commission's text includes limitations for biofuels cultivation on biodiverse grasslands, wetlands, and peatlands, as well as specific requirements for overall greenhouse gas savings. It also includes limitations on direct land use change. Ms. Langenheld admitted that the new directive will not tackle food security and indirect land use concerns. However, there will be a review mechanism looking into sustainability and food prices every two years. Moreover, the EU has started to look into social criteria as well as indirect land use change effects and is currently preparing a new communication, due at the end of 2008, on how to implement a sustainability scheme. Ms. Langenheld also mentioned the need for global modeling research to assess global land use implications.
Jeff Skeer discussed current U.S. biofuels policies. He mentioned that the goal was to arrive at a mixed policy approach of producing cellulosic ethanol and importing sugarcane ethanol. He said that the United States was trying to "do it the right way," but that land use change research was still at too early a stage to draw the right assumptions for biofuels production. He mentioned that one of the problems was coordinating the input and interests of different U.S. executive departments.
To view Skeer's powerpoint presentation, click here.
With regard to transatlantic cooperation on biofuels policies, Langenheld and Skeer agreed that the main topics were research and development, and potential agreements on standards and sustainability, especially life cycle greenhouse gas emissions assessments. One of the goals would be to come to an international agreement on land use.
Franz Matzner argued that from an environmental standpoint it was important to include in the biofuels policy process room for a learning curve so that initial assumptions would not become self-sustainable. Thus, it will be important to continue to inform an ongoing policy process that does currently not capture all important aspects. Matzner argued that it was crucial to come to a full analysis of direct and indirect land use impacts. This would include an analysis on land and water used for biofuels as opposed to using it for food and fiber production. Similarly, Matzner argued that one person's organic waste was another person's fertilizer, raw material or vital habitat.
Following the presentations, our audience of government, think tank, and private sector representatives had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the future of biofuels policies. The discussion centered on the issue of harmonizing biofuels standards and on the current business and investment environment for biofuels and biodiesel.