A good week for a sustainable use of agricultural ressources in Europe

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This week the European Parliament has set two decisive milestones for the sustainable use of natural resources and the mobilisation of European agriculture to meet the climate challenge and make the European economy more sovereign and resilient. 

Firstly, with today’s vote on the Renewable Energy Directive. The European Parliament confirms the place of biofuels, including first-generation biofuels, by rejecting the “food versus fuel” arguments. The MEPs assure that the European bioenergy sector can contribute to the challenge of food security AND energy security. Biomass is a primary component of renewable energy in Europe today – almost 60% – and remains a promising source to exploit in the future. 

The MEPs made several significant adjustments to the European Commission’s initial proposal. They raised the target for reducing emissions in the transport sector – liquid and gas biofuels can contribute to this, offering an affordable low-carbon mobility solution for European families. They also pointed out that the debate on land use is not limited to agriculture but includes, for example, photovoltaics. They maintained the 7% cap on food crops for biofuel production, but speeded up the phase-out of palm oil biofuels which cause large-scale deforestation. They added soya to this category, which is a positive step forward. This offers prospects for mobilising biofuels from European feedstocks. In this respect, the MEPs called on the Commission to strengthen the database and resolutely combat fraud in the waste oil sector, which is an obvious way of circumventing palm oil.

However, it is regrettable that MEPs maintained a hidden multiplier for renewable electricity in transport until 2029. It is no longer time to have fictitious decarbonisation results. The climate challenge calls for concrete and real achievements rather than virtual emission reductions to promote one technology over another. The European Union should enforce its commitment to technological neutrality in its regulations, which it has not done so far and poses a threat to the emergence of innovative solutions. 

Secondly, with yesterday’s vote on the fight against imported deforestation. This text does not solve everything. But it is a positive step forward for the credibility of the green deal and its import component, including in the context of the RED directive. The structuring of sustainable value chains requires coherence between different policies. The efforts of European operators to strengthen sustainability criteria cannot be brushed aside by cheaper imports, which is true both for farmers and industrial actors. What is at stake is the ambition to keep a solid production base in Europe and our capacity to produce better without exporting emissions that we no longer want at home.

In this context, we can welcome the ambition of the European Parliament’s position. It includes crucial levers such as geolocation and the mobilisation of satellite observation tools to effectively combat the scourge of deforestation, particularly in tropical forests, which are carbon reservoirs that must be urgently preserved. The European Commission should build tools accessible to economic operators based on satellite imagery that allow them to analyse the impact of their supply chain, which is an inclusive and concrete way to fight deforestation tangibly. This step should be secured in the negotiations with the Member States.

The list of products covered is extended to raw materials and their co-products which is a step forward, for example, palm oil derivatives (POME & PFAD). And the definition of livestock farming is improved, ensuring that the whole process is covered and not just the last stage. Regrettably, sugar cane has to wait for a revision of this regulation before being covered. 

These two texts share a common ambition: to lay the foundations for the sustainable use of agricultural production. The Green Deal’s ambition is not to put the environment under a bell jar nor to transfer European production elsewhere in the world. The Green Deal wishes to mobilise our agricultural ecosystems sustainably by resisting simplistic arguments of degrowth and offering concrete regulatory tools to economic actors to move forward on a path of progress. These positive advances must be taken into account by the European Commission for the next steps of the Farm to Fork, which must turn its back on the temptation of degrowth, but on the contrary, open the way to a sustainable mobilisation of the Union’s production capacities, in particular by optimising the carbon cycles.