By / March 21, 2014

Indirect land use change (ILUC) and biofuels in the EU

This dossier aims to provide information on very recent studies and analyses regarding the ILUC and biofuels issue. It has…

© Maksym Yemelyanov / Fotolia

This dossier aims to provide information on very recent studies and analyses regarding the ILUC and biofuels issue. It has been created in February 2013 and last updated in March 2014.
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. This resultant increase in emissions makes the biofuels’ benefits doubtful as regards to the whole life cycle from production to consumption.
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, pastures and wetlands into agricultural land and leads to an indirect increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Indirect land use change (ILUC) and biofuels in the EU
© Maksym Yemelyanov / Fotolia

In October 2012 the European Commission published 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 an 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.” (press release). It means that the existing legislation would be amended by limiting the production of crop-based biofuels in Europe and considering their climate impacts through indirect land use change.
The EP Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety organised two workshops on biofuels and indirect land use change, in January 2012 and in February 2013.
In September 2013, the European Parliament adopted a legislative resolution which amended the Commission’s proposal (summary). The EP rapporteur Corinne Lepage (ALDE, FR) welcomed the Parliament vote but regretted the fact that she didn’t receive a mandate to negotiate with member states in order to achieve a quick agreement.
Member states’ views strongly diverge regarding the conventional, food-based fuels. Following intensive discussions in the Council, the Lithuanian presidency proposed a compromise text, but energy ministers failed to reach an agreement at their meeting in December 2013 (analysis).


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, in: OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022, OECD, 2013, pp. 105-121
This chapter overviews the biofuel market situation as well as the main issues and uncertainties.

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.

Indirect Land Use Change and biofuels, Uwe R. Fritsche, Kirsten Wiegmann, Oeko-Institut, February 2011, 63 p.
This study, requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, reviews and analyses the studies carried out for the Commission regarding the impact of ILUC on greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels.


The EU biofuel policy and palm oil: Cutting subsidies or cutting rainforest?, Ivetta Gerasimchuk, Peng Yam Koh, GSI-IISD, September 2013, 23 p.
Palm oil is commonly used as feedstock for biodiesel along with rapeseed oil and soybean oil. However, according to this study for Friends of the Earth Europe there are many concerns about the sustainability of expanding palm oil production in Indonesia, Malaysia and other tropical countries.

Biofuels – at what cost?: A review of costs and benefits of EU biofuel policies, GSI-IISD, April 2013, 125 p.
This study finds that a significant amount of public money subsidized the use of conventional biofuels and a small portion to advanced biofuels development. It examines the key benefits generated by the industry, including rural development, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and improved energy security and provides recommendations to EU policy-makers on reforming subsidy policies and improving data recording.

The sustainability of advanced biofuels in the EU: Assessing the sustainability of a list of wastes, residues and other feedstocks set out in the European Commission’s proposal on Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), B. Kretschmer [et al.], IEEP, March 2013, 37 p.
Wastes and residues have many advantages over first generation feedstocks, most of which are food crops. But sustainability is a critical issue. This report provides with information regarding the definitions of individual feedstocks, their existing uses and potential necessary environmental safeguards.

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.

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.

Fuel or food: is that the question?

Biofuels and food security: Risks and opportunities, Carlo Hamelinck, Ecofys, August 2013, 29 p.
This study released by ePURe, the European renewable ethanol association, examines the relation between biofuel production, global crop commodity prices and implications for food security, with focus on poor regions of the world. It concludes that ethanol is not causing food price increase.

Understanding the biofuel trade-offs between Indirect Land Use Change, hunger and poverty, Timothy Searchinger, analysis produced for Friends of the Earth Europe, July 2013, 17 p.
This briefing paper provides with clear message to decision-makers in the EU :” a vote for increased biofuels mandates means a vote to reduce world food supply – mandating hunger. Only by counting on people to eat less food can carbon savings be achieved: an unacceptable trade-off. “

Price volatility in food and agricultural markets: Policy responses, OECD, June 2011, 68 p.
This report, prepared by collaborating international organisations, reviews the complex issue of food prices, offers suggestions for a systematic and internationally coordinated response and explores mechanisms of international cooperation to implement the recommendations.

ILUC science debate

Land use change greenhouse gas emissions of European biofuel policies utilizing the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) model, Thomas Darlington [et al.], EBB, August 2013, 41 p.
This study produced by US researchers and released by the European Biodiesel Board (EBB) and two other industry groups is based on the latest version of the GTAP model used by the State of California to estimate land use changes. It argues that ILUC impacts associated with biodiesel production from rapeseed oil could be up to 95% lower than European Commission estimates.

Le changement d’affectation des sols induit par la consommation européenne de biodiesel : une analyse de sensibilité aux évolutions des rendements agricoles, Alexandre Gohin, INRA, juin 2013, 45 p.
Cette étude conduit une nouvelle revue de littérature centrée sur les évolutions de rendements imposés ou obtenus dans les évaluations des effets des changements d’affectation des sols (CAS) induits par la consommation européenne de biodiesel et teste l’impact de ces effets rendements sur les CAS et les émissions des gas à effet de serre associées.

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.

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.

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.

Critical issues in estimating ILUC emissions, Luisa Marelli, Declan Mulligan, Robert Edwards, JRC, July 2011, 64 p.
According to this report “even when uncertainties are high, there is strong evidence that the ILUC effect is significant and that this effect is crop‐specific”.

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