T&E: ‘Europe wastes area larger than Ireland on biofuel production’

A new study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung, IFEU), commissioned by Transport & Environment (T&E) reveals that the European Union wastes millions of hectares of fertile cropland for the production of biofuels.

Crops for biofuels consumed in Europe require 9,6 Mha of land – an area larger than the island of Ireland. If these lands were returned to their natural state, they could absorb around 65 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. That is almost twice the officially reported net CO2 savings from biofuels replacing fossil fuels.

This land could be used much better in the interest of mitigating climate change, stemming biodiversity loss, and increasing global food security, the environmental lobbying group states.

In 2009, the EU introduced the ‘Renewable Energy Directive’ (RED). The proposition at the time was attractive: farmers would be supported to produce ‘green fuels’. In reality, biofuels have harmed food security and obstructed climate change mitigation.

‘Borderline criminal’

Maik Marahrens, biofuels manager at T&E: “Biofuels are a failed experiment. To continue to burn food as fuel while the world is facing a growing global food crisis is borderline criminal. Countries like Germany and Belgium are discussing limiting food crop biofuels in response. The rest of Europe must follow suit. […] Crop biofuels are probably the dumbest thing ever promoted in the name of the climate.”

Julie Bos, EU climate justice policy advisor at Oxfam: “The EU’s biofuel policy is a catastrophe for hundreds of millions of people who are struggling to find their next meal. Not only does it surrender vast swathes of cropland to fuel cars, but it also pushes food prices even higher. European countries must once and for all stop burning food for fuel.”

Calorie needs of 120 million people

They are made from edible products like rapeseed and wheat. Because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, wheat prices are under tremendous pressure. Russia and Ukraine are responsible for a quarter of the global wheat market. T&E, therefore, calls it immoral to continue driving on biofuels.

Using the land for solar farms would be far more efficient. You need 40 times more land to power a car using biofuels versus an electric car powered by solar. And crops cultivated on these lands could be used to provide the calorie needs of at least 120 million people.

The EU has set itself targets to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity in its Nature Restoration Law. With biofuel feedstocks taking up a good chunk of Europe’s croplands, ending the use of land for biofuels could be an important step toward achieving this goal.



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