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Europe to Study Indirect Land Use

December 31, 2008
The European Parliament on Dec. 17 adopted amendments to the Renewable Energy Sources Directive, raising targets for production of biofuels but at the same time setting strict sustainability standards to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of road transport fuels. The Parliament’s adopted text makes clear that it intends to calculate climate change emissions from international land use, but that the science is not currently available to do so:

(11) In calculating the greenhouse gas impact of land conversion, economic operators should be able to use actual values for the carbon stocks associated with the reference land use and the land use after conversion. They should also be able to use standard values. The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the appropriate basis for this. That work is not currently expressed in a form that is immediately usable by economic operators.”

The text also includes this assessment of the risk of indirect land use change and the need for an accurate measurement:

(18) Even if biofuels themselves are made using raw materials from land already in arable use, the net increase in demand for crops caused by the promotion of biofuels could lead to a net increase in the cropped area. This could be into high carbon stock land, in which case there would be damaging carbon stock losses. To alleviate this risk, it is appropriate to introduce accompanying measures to encourage an increased rate of productivity increases on land already used for crops; the use of degraded land; and the adoption of sustainability requirements, comparable to those laid down in this Directive for EU biofuel consumption, in other biofuel-consuming jurisdictions. The Commission shall develop a concrete methodology to minimise greenhouse gas emissions caused by indirect land use changes. In doing this the Commission shall analyse, on the basis of best available scientific evidence, in particular, inter alia, the inclusion of a factor for indirect land use changes in the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions and the need to incentivise sustainable biofuels which minimise the impacts of land use change and improve biofuel sustainability with respect to indirect land use change. In developing this methodology, the Commission should inter alia address the potential indirect land use change effects of biofuels produced from non-food cellulosic material and from ligno-cellulosic material.”

The agreed upon amendments to Directive 98/70/EC include a two-year study of indirect land use change that is to include methods to ensure that sustainable biofuels avoid causing land use change:

7d. (6). The Commission shall, by 31 December 2010, submit a report to the European Parliament and to the Council reviewing the impact of indirect land use change on greenhouse gas emissions and addressing ways to minimise this impact. This report shall where appropriate be accompanied, in particular by a proposal, based on the best available scientific evidence, containing a concrete methodology for emissions from carbon stock changes caused by indirect land use changes, ensuring compliance with this Directive, in particular Article 7b(2)."

Annex IV. Rules for Calculating Life Cycle Greenhouse Emissions from Biofuels, includes the calculation of GHG reductions for different types of biofuels without land use change.

Note that the U.S. Energy Security and Independence Act also called for a National Academies study of indirect land use impact, to be completed within 18 months of the law’s enactment. That study has not been funded.