Indirect land-use change (ILUC)

Indirect land-use change (ILUC) means that if you take a field of grain and switch the crop to biofuel, somebody somewhere will go hungry unless those missing tonnes of grain are grown elsewhere.

The European Commission recently put the brakes on subsidies to first-generation biofuels such as ethanol made from corn or sugar cane, arguing that some were as bad as, or even worse than the fossil fuels that they replace. 

Comments

frederic.simon's picture
<p>The EU currently assumes that biofuels and biomass are carbon neutral, i.e.: that they don't generate more carbon dioxide when they are burned than what they absorb when the plants grow up.</p><p>However, this very logic is now being challenged by the European Commission's own research. A literature review conducted by the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) concludes that, according to best known science, “the use of roundwood [trees] from forests for bioenergy purposes would cause an actual increase in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions compared to fossil fuels in the short term”.</p><p>The whole issue boils down to what is called "carbon accounting" rules. In short, the draft JRC study says that burning a tree to produce bioenergy – in the form of wood pellets or chips – releases all the carbon that the tree has absorbed in its lifetime, making it carbon neutral.&nbsp;But cutting down forests also reduces their ability to absorb new carbon, at least until it has been replenished by an equivalent carbon absorbing stock. (<a href="http://www.fern.org/campaign/carbon-trading/what-are-carbon-sinks">Read more about carbon sinks</a>).&nbsp;</p><p>The JRC study has not been released yet but EurActiv obtained a copy using a freedom of information request. Read the story here: http://www.euractiv.com/climate-environment/eu-bioenergy-policies-increase-c-news-515606</p>
Jason Anderson's picture
<p>Within the landscape of renewables, WWF gives a special attention to bioenergy, since according to national plans more than 50% of European renewable energy will come from biomass by 2020. The current legal status regarding biomass use provides incentives for the use of biomass in Europe.</p><p>While the EU has agreed on sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids and carbon accounting within the current <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm">Renewable Energy Directive</a> as well as in the ETS zero emission factor for biomass, the European Commission <strong>has still not delivered their full implementation</strong>. Several EU member states are heavily blocking any Commission initiative on that aspect.</p><p>Important elements to ensure the sustainable production of biofuels are still missing today, such as the protection of highly biodiverse grasslands and the calculation of emissions coming from indirect land-use change.</p><p>WWF believes that sustainability needs our full attention if we want to move towards a<strong> clean renewables future that does not compete with food production</strong>. Advanced biofuels could be one option of future cleaner technology to produce biofuels as sustainably as possible.</p><p>Without <strong>strong, common and mandatory sustainability rules</strong>, biomass for electricity, heating and cooling can even have severe environmental impacts – and these rules are currently missing in EU legislation. This means that European biomass use might not deliver the help towards meeting our <a href="http://www.wwf.eu/what_we_do/climate/publications_climate/?204412/WWFs-recommendations-for-sustainability-criteria-for-forest-based-biomass">climate ambition that we know they are capable of</a>.</p><p>The carbon accounting and the carbon debt concept are a fundamental aspect, which requires an effective policy answer.<br>&nbsp;</p>