EU can hit biofuels goal without conflicts


The European Union can achieve its 2020 target to get 10 per cent of all transport fuel from biofuels without adding to soaring food prices and harming rainforests, Germany's environment minister said on Saturday.


"We can meet the 10 per cent target through biofuel production in the European Union (and imports of) raw materials, which do not lead to a conflict with food or rainforests," Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on the fringes of a meeting of EU environment ministers in Slovenia.


Soaring food prices blamed on market speculators, a weak dollar and biofuels have led to riots in developing countries including Indonesia, the Philippines and Haiti, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said last week.


EU leaders agreed last year to get a tenth of all transport fuel from biofuels by 2020 to help fight climate change.


Now ministers are having to think how to reach that goal and still avoid unwanted trade-offs, including stealing agricultural land for food production and harming tropical rainforests.


Gabriel downplayed the contribution that growing biofuel crops may have had on record global food prices.


Biofuels are made from crops like corn, wheat, sugar and palm oil, which refiners turn into ethanol or oil to replace gasoline and diesel.


Europe and the United States subsidise biofuel production both to curb emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning gasoline and to address energy security by using alternatives to oil.


Last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a co-ordinated response led by the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund to address soaring food prices, including examining the impact of biofuels.


The FAO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said last year biofuels were "one of the main drivers" for forecast food price hikes of 20-50 per cent by 2016. But Gabriel said grain demand for animal feed was more relevant to the higher food prices.


"There are other factors crucial for rising food prices. The big competition is not between the use of biomass for energy and food but between feed and food," he said.


"The growing demand for meat and milk has the consequence that more growing area is used for fodder, and this development is just made worse by the biofuels."


The EU's executive Commission proposed in January certain biofuel standards – or sustainability criteria – which ministers are now considering. These standards included, for example, a condition that biofuels cut emissions by at least a third and consider impacts on food prices. (Reuters)