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BirdLife urges caution in biofuel drive

Environmental protection must not be lost

BirdLife has broadly welcomed the European Commission’s Biofuels strategy, published today, as a step forward in the fight against climate change. However, while BirdLife welcomes the Commission’s commitment to ensure that biofuels are produced sustainably and deliver substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the organisation is concerned that the new strategy remains too generic to offer real guarantees that wildlife will not be harmed.

The strategy covers the use of transport biofuels – mainly ethanol and biodiesel - in tackling climate change, and incentives to encourage development of the industry. The need to prevent loss of wildlife if uncultivated or 'set-aside' farmland (important for many declining European farmland birds) or tropical forests are converted to biofuel crops is clearly mentioned but seems to be more of an add on, rather than central to the EU strategic vision.

For instance, Indonesia's government plans to develop 3 million hectares of palm oil plantations in the next five years to meet the increasing demand for biofuel, with the EU market signalled as a main market. Most of this area will be obtained by clearing rainforest; a new oil palm plantation covering an area of 1.8 million hectares in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) near the border with Malaysia would destroy one of the last large pristine expanses of rainforest known as "the heart of Borneo", home to globally threatened species such as the Orangutang.Ariel Brunner, BirdLife's EU Agriculture Policy Officer, said, "There is a great danger that the development of biofuels will have a devastating impact on biodiversity while delivering hardly any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The EU can ensure it doesn’t go this way by putting in place a strong system of safeguards. This document is a step in the right direction, but only the bare bones of environmental protection are currently there."

BirdLife is calling on the Commission to ensure that large scale conversion of set-aside land to energy crops is avoided, and that biofuels are promoted in ways that reward actual environmental performance rather than providing production subsidies.

Mr Brunner added, "The EU has pledged to ensure that biofuels are sustainably produced and we shall be watching closely whether this declaration is followed by concrete action. Environmental protection must not be lost in the EU’s drive to promote biofuels."

4th July 2014