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Sustainable biofuels and the indirect land use change (ILUC) issue

ILUC occurs when biofuel crops replace food crops. If existing agricultural land is turned over to biofuel production, agriculture has to proceed to land conversion in order to meet the demand for crops for food and feed. The result could be deforestation, ecosystems biodiversity loss and substantial increases in GHG emissions.


© Maksym Yemelyanov / Fotolia

Even if the EU legislation in force already imposes sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids, there is a risk that the current additional demand for biofuels contributes to further conversion of forests and wetlands into agricultural land and leads to an indirect increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

After a period of internal debate nourished by a series of external studies (see the critical review) the European Commission published in October 2012 its Proposal for a Directive.

This aims to amend the Fuel Quality Directive (Directive 98/70/EC) and the Renewable Energy Directive (Directive 2009/28/EC) and is accompanied by the Impact Assessment on ILUC. The purpose of the proposal is “to start the transition to biofuels that deliver substantial greenhouse gas savings when also estimated indirect land-use change emissions are reported.” (See also the press release).

In January 2012 the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety organised a Workshop on biofuels and indirect land use change. As the Commission’s legislative proposal put the issue on the political agenda again, a new workshop will be held on 20 February 2013.

This dossier aims to provide information on very recent studies and analyses regarding the ILUC issue as well as on stakeholders’ positions about the legislative proposal. Note however that the majority of the studies were published before the Commission’s proposal.


Addressing ILUC? The European Commission’s proposal on Indirect Land Use Change, Bettina Kretschmer, David Baldock, IEEP, January 2013, 7 p.
This briefing analyses the European Commission’s proposal for EU legislation on indirect land use change (ILUC) and overviews the stakeholder positions.

Biofuels and sustainability issues, The European Biofuels Technology Platform
EBTP represents major companies active in the biofuels value chains. It is managed by a Steering Committee and supported by a Secretariat, with the European Commission as an active observer.


Sustainable alternatives for land-based biofuels in the European Union: Assessment of options and development of a policy strategy, Bettina Kampman, Anouk van Grinsven, Harry Croezen, CE Delft, December 2012, 127 p.
The aim of this study is to develop more sustainable approach for meeting the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) targets without expanding further the use of biofuels grown on land. Improving fuel efficiency of vehicles, reducing transport demand, increasing the use of biofuels from waste and residues that do not cause additional land use change are options investigated in different scenarios.

EU criteria for sustainable biofuels: Accounting for carbon, depoliticising plunder, Les Levidow, in: Geoforum, Volume 44, 2013, available online in November 2012, 14 p.
This article overviews the development of the EU policy for sustainable biofuels and reveals problems regarding the 10% target, the sustainability criteria, and the GHG savings.

Assessing grandfathering options under an EU ILUC policy, Daan Peters, Arno van den Bos, Jasper van de Staaij, ECOFYS, January 2012, 59 p.
This study argues that a grandfathering clause exists with the RED and FQD. This aims at protecting the investments that EU has been doing in the sector. The report analyses the existing ILUC grandfathering options. The protection needed for the biodiesel sector without breeding new ILUC is the key question

Transformations in EU biofuels markets under the Renewable Energy Directive and the implications for land use, trade and forests, Francis X. Johnson, Henrique Pacini, Edward Smeets, CIFOR, 2012, 69 p.
The report overviews the EU biofuels policies and market development, analyses cost and compliance issues and expected impacts on land use and forested areas, and develops alternative scenarios for imported biofuels in the EU.

Biofuels and indirect land use change: The case for mitigation, Ernst & Young, October 2011, 52 p.
This study commissioned by a consortium of industry and non-governmental organizations analyses four ILUC policy options and examines practical ways to reduce potential environmental damage and risks to food security. It recommends ILUC mitigation practices and market mechanism to encourage such activities using carbon credit scheme.

Assessing the land use change consequences of European biofuel policies, David Laborde, IFPRI, October 2011, 111 p.
According to this report the biofuel policies are not enough as a tool for achieving the mitigation goals and the biofuel production-related emissions should be considered as a part of those generated by other agricultural production. Alternative trade policy options, biotechnologies, low carbon agricultural practices may be a solution to mitigate the emissions linked to land use changes by reducing the requirement of additional land.

Anticipated Indirect Land Use Change associated with expanded use of biofuels and bioliquids in the EU: An analysis of the national renewable energy action plans, Catherine Bowyer, Bettina Kretschmer, IEEP, March 2011, 24 p.
This analysis underlines the importance of ILUC issue and the need to promote advanced biofuels or to pursuing a greater efficiency in the transport sector in order to meet the EU climate change mitigation goals. Data by Member state is provided.

Greenhouse Gas Accounting

Baseline time accounting: Considering global land use dynamics when estimating the climate impact of indirect land use change caused by biofuels, Jesper Hedal Kløverpris, Steffen Mueller, in: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Volume 18, Issue 2, February 2013, published online in September 2012, 12 p.
This article suggests that the current methodology for iLUC calculations may considerably overestimate the climate impact of biofuels and a more sophisticated approach is required.

Opinion of the EEA Scientific Committee on Greenhouse Gas Accounting in relation to bioenergy, 15 September 2011, 10 p.
This report argues that there is a a major carbon accounting problem linked to the indirect effects of biofuels and biomass. It highlights the necessity of LCA to the bioenergy.

Stakeholder views

About-turn by EU Commission on biofuels policy set to decimate biofuels industry in the midst of the European economic crisis, European Biodiesel Board [et al.], 17 October 2012

EU biofuels proposals threaten millions of pounds of investment – and renewables and climate targets, Renewable Energy Association, 17 October 2012

Biofuels capped but still likely to starve and pollute, Friends of the Earth Europe, 17 October 2012

Commission fails to shut the door on harmful biofuels, Greenpeace Europe, 17 October 2012

European Commission proposes half measures on biofuels, WWF Europe, 17 October, 2012

Commission misses opportunity to get biofuel policy right, T&E, 17 October 2012


4 thoughts on “Sustainable biofuels and the indirect land use change (ILUC) issue

  1. Bio fuel is one of the sustainable source of renewable energy. organic material is collected and compreesed under high pressure using briquetting plant.

    And if we use bio fuel in our daily life then pollution can be decreased…


    Posted by shreyavaidya | January 25, 2014, 08:32


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