The influential European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is this week expected to call on the European Commission to reassess its target for ensuring 10 percent of road fuels come from biofuels by 2020.
The recommendation forms part of a package of proposed changes to current EU environmental policies put forward by the advisory group of employers, employers and other social and business interest groups, which often plays a key role in the European Commissions' decision making process.
Through a series of recommendations, or opinions as they are known, scheduled to be ratified at a plenary session of the Committee this week the consultative body is to advise the commission that "the implications of the 10% target for biofuels in the transport sector should be carefully assessed".
It will also call for more details on how the Commission plans to meet the targets and a commitment that it will "be prepared to modify the approach if it appears to be less effective in carbon reduction than has been hoped, or is having other undesirable effects on the structure of world agriculture or on biodiversity".
The EESC has also signalled it will side with environmental groups in taking a "very critical stance" of the Commission's recent biofuel progress report. The report largely praised moves to promote wider use of biofuels, but the EESC argues it has failed to adequately account for the "manifold problems" associated with wider use of biofuels such as "high production costs and storage problems for bio-diesel and high consumption of water and fertilisers, potentially causing soil destruction, for ethanol… [and] the impact of biofuels on the world market for food".
Environmentalists have repeatedly called for a moratorium on biofuels arguing that the use of land previously used for food crops for biofuel crops such as sugar and palm oil is already leading to increased food prices and shortages. Others have argued that increased demand for palm oil will also lead to an increase in deforestation in countries such as Indonesia, undermining any reduction in carbon emissions associated with using biofuels.
The controversy has already prompted some firms to scrap plans for biofuel-powered fleets with coach company National Express recently cancelling a biofuel trial due to environmental concerns.
To help ensure that increased use of biofuels does not lead to detrimental effects on the environment the EESC is also urging the European Commission increase R&D investment in so-called second generation biofuels produced from non-food crops; introduce a mandatory certification scheme for accrediting sustainable biofuel production; and commit to revising its targets if it is proved that biofuels are leading to environmental damage.
Separately the committee is also calling for a new public awareness campaign across EU members to promote energy efficiency measures and the adoption of "favourable tax regimes" and financing mechanisms to stimulate adoption of energy efficient technologies.
The calls will be welcomed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who earlier this year signalled plans for an EU-wide reduction in VAT on energy efficient technologies.
However, European leaders including Brown can expect to face criticism from the Committee for adopting pro-coal energy policies based on the assumption that carbon capture and sequestration technologies are poised to enter the mainstream. While the EESC will recognise that such technologies will have a major role to play in climate protection it argues that proven cost-effective carbon capture technologies do not yet exist and the EC's plans for such technologies are based on "optimistic" assumptions.
The broadly critical nature of the Committee's recommendations further highlight the extent to which business and employee groups are now frequently in closer alignment with environmentalists than with politicians when it comes to matters of environmental policy.
It will be interesting to see if the EESC's advice is adopted by the European Commission, but either way it provides further evidence that there is a growing understanding amongst business leaders that there is more to be gained from recommending workable, sustainable and in many cases stringent environmental legislation than there is from repeatedly lobbying against new green laws.
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