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The biofuels debate - Indirect Land Use Change
A new methodology to estimate GHG Emissions

During 2009 and 2010, the European Commission (EC) worked intensively to give a better understanding of Indirect Land Use Change*  (ILUC) effects from increased biofuels use. Various Commission services carried out modelling and analytical exercises to investigate the nature of ILUC and provide quantitative estimates of the effects.  The EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) – notably the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES), Institute for Energy (IE) and Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) has substantially contributed to the new EU system established to ensure that European biofuels and bioliquids come from sustainable sources and meet the highest environmental standards.
                “Greening of the landscapes”       Photo: P. Loudjani

To assess the impact of land use changes due to biofuels production, the IES has developed guidelines to quantify changes in the amount of organic carbon in soils and biomass. This is an important factor in the sustainability assessment. The guidelines follow the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) specifications for national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories and are supported by comprehensive global data processed by the JRC.  The guidelines formed the basis for the Commission Decision on the guidelines for the calculation of land carbon stocks. Based on these guidelines a method was developed to estimate GHG emissions from land use changes due to biofuel production. The method follows a two-step approach:

  • Creation of  a dedicated database (e.g. land use/crop cover/soil types etc.), which includes combining data from different sources and newly processed data into a harmonized database;
  • Simulation based on cropland demands from the general equilibrium model (run by International Food Policy Research Institute) and on cropland demand from the partial equilibrium model (run by JRC-IPTS).

The new system, adopted in June 2010 by the European Commission, encourages industry, governments and NGOs to set up voluntary certification schemes for all types of biofuels. It will help to ensure that all biofuels (including those imported into the EU) are sustainable and deliver high GHG savings, at least 35% when compared to fossil fuels. This excludes specific land categories, such as primary forests, wetlands, peatlands and areas with high biodiversity.

Climate regions data layer processed on the basis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change classification

The JRC provided extensive technical and scientific support to the Commission Directive and Communications. This included designing practical measures and procedures for calculating the GHG emissions of various options for producing biofuels and bioliquids. The accompanying global data layers on climate regions and soil types have also been developed by the JRC, following IPCC specifications, and were adopted by the Commission decision on the guidelines for the calculation of land carbon stocks.

* Indirect land-use change (ILUC) occurs when the production of crops for biofuels in a given land pushes the previous activity to another location. The use of the new location to place the previous activity generates a land-use change attributable to the implantation of the biofuel crop. In other words, if the crops needed to make a particular batch of biofuels crops are grown on uncultivated land, this will cause direct land use change. If crops grown on existing arable land are used to make biofuels instead of food, this will likely cause ILUC because of the necessity to replace the food. Due to changes in the carbon stock of the soil and the biomass, indirect land-use change has consequences in the greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of a biofuel.





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