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Is EU biofuels policy carbon-inefficient and environmentally damaging?


Brussels, 17 April 2013

In recent weeks the European Commission, Member States, NGOs and industry have debated the Commission's proposed cap on first-generation biofuels for road transport fuels.  However, the voice of scientists has not yet entered the debate.  On 24 April 2013, experts on biofuels are speaking out with the release of a new report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC).  In its rigorous study, EASAC finds that "first-generation" biofuels appear to provide little or none of the greenhouse gas reductions required in the Directive whilst putting food, agriculture and natural ecosystems at risk. The Commission's intention to review the cap on first-generation biofuels is a step in the right direction despite opposition from some Member States and industry. 

"The latest EASAC report highlights why "first-generation" biofuels appear to provide little or no greenhouse gas reduction once all impacts of biomass cultivation, including indirect land use change (ILUC) and fuel production are taken into account. The report adds support to the Commission's intention to review this area. Moreover, it urges systematic research into the anticipated improvements from "second-generation" biofuels from inedible parts of plants, yet to be demonstrated at the commercial scale", says Professor Sir Brian Heap, President of EASAC.

The working group recommends that the sustainability criteria for biofuels in the EU Renewable Energy Directive should be re-examined to ensure that lifecycle assessments reflect the real-world performance of biofuel production and include all impacts of cultivation and production, direct and indirect. There are risks that the 2020 target of 10% biofuel provides a driver for carbon-inefficient and environmentally damaging biofuel production.  The target should be revisited with the aim of finding a sustainable percentage or be abandoned entirely.  Sustainability criteria for the protection of agriculture and natural ecosystems must be strengthened.

EASAC will discuss these recommendations with relevant policy makers and stakeholders on 24 April 2013 at 18:00 in a public event in Brussels, at Edelman|The Centre. For more informationabout the event, please consult the diary on the EASAC website: or download the invitation from here.  

Read the full report here ( 

Policy background:

As part of its strategy to combat global warming by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, the European Union (EU), in 2009, agreed the Renewable Energy Directive with ambitious targets for the use of renewable energy. These included targets for renewable energy in the road transport sector. By 2020 10% of the final consumption of energy in transport in the EU and each of its Member States should come from renewable sources. This energy could come from renewable electricity generation or from biomass.

Rather limited progress has so far been made on the use of renewable electricity for road transport, and it is expected that the main contribution to meeting the 10% target will come from biomass in the form of biofuels; the dominant production route will still be through the use of edible parts of plants ("first-generation" biofuels).

EASAC is formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States, to enable them to collaborate in giving advice to European policy-makers. EASAC provides a means for the collective voice of European Science to be heard. Through EASAC, the academies work together to provide independent expert, evidence-based advice about the scientific aspects to those who make or influence policy within the European institutions.



Sofie Vanthournout

Head of EASAC Brussels office

+32 2 550 23 32


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