Where your next tankload is coming from?

Just where is the EU going with its agricultural policy? With the European Commission endorsing a plan to up the previous goal of a 5.75% market share for biofuels in the overall transport fuel supply by 2012, to 10% by 2020, one has to wonder which part of the EU’s goals is being pushed hardest. From the EU website:

The EU is supporting biofuels with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, boosting the decarbonisation of transport fuels, diversifying fuel supply sources, offering new income opportunities in rural areas and developing long-term replacements for fossil fuel.

Certainly all of these goals would be furthered by such a move by the EU, but which has prompted this raising of targets despite the estimate that most member states will not even achieve the original goal. As a long-term replacement for fossil fuels, the biofuels movement would appear to be unsustainable. Whilst it does offer a new ‘energy farmer’ role to those particularly in the developing world, the biofuels movement will likely set back the move towards sustainable agriculture, and has the potential through furthering intensive farming and monoculture techniques of causing greater environmental damage than the potential harms of global warming. 1If these are indeed caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Technically the move may ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at least insofar as it prevents the further introduction of carbon deposits in fossil fuels from being added to the atmospheric carbon cycle, yet at the moment many biofuels in the market are so inefficient as to be net pollutants. 2And quite what is meant by ‘the decarbonisation of transport fuels’ is best left to the PR people.

All of which leaves the diversification of fuel supply sources. For the greatest efficiency, there is little doubt that biofuels should be burned in power stations rather than mobile internal combustion engines, yet that would appear to be only a secondary aim of this directive. Perhaps the recent EU spats with Russia offer a greater clue to the hasty attempts to diversify fuel supply sources, and leading the charge in this regard is Sweden. Their aim, to make Sweden an oil free society, and to break their dependence upon it by 2020, may seem outlandish. But it is not motivated by the fear that oil is running out.

In the earth’s interior there are very extensive coal-based energy resources, from methane hydrates deep in the oceans and in northerly permafrost areas to unexploited deposits of oil sands and shale oils. The superficial deposits of coal, oil and gas that man makes use of today are the tip of the planet’s enormous energy pyramid. Thus, oil will never run out, neither in a theoretical nor a practical sense.

Sweden’s aims are very similar to those of the EU:

  1. To reduce Sweden’s climate impact.
  2. To secure Sweden’s supply of energy in the long term.
  3. To become a leading nation in the development of new technology for sustainable use of energy and more efficient use of energy.
  4. To strengthen our international economic competitiveness.
  5. To use and develop the energy resources from forests and fields, “Sweden’s green gold”. 3Making Sweden an OIL-FREE Society, Commission on Oil Independence, 21 June 2006, p. 11. Highlights added.

It would appear then that the true aim of this EU directive has less to with cleaning up the economy through greater reliance on renewable energies, than an attempt to reduce the EU’s heavy reliance on the volatile world oil market. Burning (inefficient) biofuels in combustion engines is not an answer to carbon emissions, long or short term. Will logic intervene and see support for the use of biofuels as petroleum replacements decline? Or will the EU continue to intervene in the hopes that the big buzzwords climate change will allow them to push through seemingly popular policies, ultimately in the name of power politics?

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1. If these are indeed caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
2. And quite what is meant by ‘the decarbonisation of transport fuels’ is best left to the PR people.
3. Making Sweden an OIL-FREE Society, Commission on Oil Independence, 21 June 2006, p. 11. Highlights added.