The land use change impact of biofuels consumed in the EU

Quantification of area and greenhouse gas impacts

Published: 10/03/2016

The European Commission today published a study by Ecofys, IIASA and E4tech that quantifies the land use change impact of biofuels consumed in the EU. Biofuels are promoted as an option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. As most biofuels are currently produced from land based crops, there is a concern that the increased consumption of biofuels requires agricultural expansion at a global scale, leading to additional carbon emissions. This effect is called Indirect Land Use Change, or ILUC. This subject has dominated the biofuels policy debate for many years.

The European Commission contracted Ecofys, IIASA and E4tech to quantify the total Land Use Change emissions from EU biofuel consumption. The modelling approach and input parameters are based on best available science and literature, and involved the active participation of many stakeholders to improve the quality of the model and underlying data. Still, as in any modelling study, a number of uncertainties remain.

The study, which was finished in the summer of 2015 largely confirms findings of earlier studies into the ILUC impact of EU biofuel consumption. Our results show that Land Use Change effects differ significantly for various types of biofuel. The EU consumption of biodiesel produced from vegetable oils has a very large Land Use Change emission impact, which is mainly caused by the considerable emission effect of peatland drainage for palm oil plantations. Conventional ethanol consumption has a moderate LUC emission effect, while some advanced biofuels can even lead to negative LUC emissions.

Our study shows that overall LUC emissions can be mitigated via several routes, most effectively by ending deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia.

The study can be accessed here: The copyright lies with the European Commission.

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Daan Peters
Sustainable Industries and Services
Carlo Hamelinck
Sustainable Industries and Services
Palm plantation (c)