A key European Parliament committee on Thursday approved a 10 percent transportation fuel target but opted to limit the use of biofuels made with grains and other food crops.
The target would require 10 percent of all vehicle fuels to come from renewable sources by 2020, which is a key measure in the European Union's goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from the 1990 levels by 2020.
Of the 10 percent target, at least 40 percent of it would have to come from electricity or hydrogen made from renewable sources, or so-called second-generation biofuels made from woodchips, wastes and other non-food stock. The rest could come from first-generation biofuels made with grains and other food-based feedstock.
The plan approved by the industry committee will serve as a blueprint for negotiations among the 27 European Union states for a legislation to be voted into law by the full parliament in October.
The committee's vote came after months of handwringing over how to deal with the mounting criticism about setting a biofuel target, which critics say has contributed to soaring global food prices and led to more land being diverted to growing crops for fuels instead of food.
EU lawmakers initially promoted a plan that would require all 10 percent of the fuel target to be met by using biofuels. When the European Commission proposed a 10 percent target in January, however, it didn't specify the fuel sources that should be used to meet the mandate, according to Reuters.
In the United States, a multiyear ethanol mandate passed last December has drawn loud grumblings from cattle ranchers and poultry producers, among others, who contend that their profit margins have declined sharply because of higher feed prices (see EPA Denied Texas Waiver).
In addition to rising food prices, critics say the world's forests, which play a critical role in absorbing carbon-dioxide emissions, will disappear at a fast clip as more farmers clear land to grow fuel crops.
Over the summer, EU lawmakers also considered a proposal to cut the target to 4 percent by 2015.
The industry committee voted for a 5 percent target by 2015 on Thursday, and required that a fifth of it should come from sources other than food-based biofuels.
The committee's plan requires that a review be conducted by 2014 to reassess the goal set for 2020 and how to achieve it.
Besides voting on the transportation mandate, the industry committee also voted for a proposal to include the shipping industry in the carbon cap-and-trade program that is set to start in 2013.
The carbon-trading program has been the EU's main tool to curb emissions. It sets emission limits for certain industries and allows companies to buy and sell emission allowances in order to meet those emission-reduction goals.
The amount of greenhouse-gas emissions emitted by the shipping industry is under debate. The Kyoto Protocol exempted the industry's emissions from national inventories, which are used to help countries that signed the treaty to cut emissions.
At the World Ports Climate Conference in the Netherlands in July, the amount was pegged at between 5 percent and 20 percent. The world's human population produced about 49 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2004, according to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate-change report, putting ships' emissions at between 2.45 billion and 9.8 billion metric tons.
The conference resulted in a declaration to reduce emissions, which was supported by representatives from 55 ports. The International Association of Ports and Harbours plan to draft measures to monitor and cut emissions will be discussed at another meeting scheduled for November in Los Angeles.
The European Parliament in July voted to include the aviation industry in the carbon-trading program starting in 2012.