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Published July 8, 2008 10:14 AM

EU Considers Dumping Biofuels While U.S. Continues to Bully Global South to Adopt Gene-Altered Crops

PARIS (AFP) - European Union energy ministers said at an informal meeting Saturday they had been labouring for 18 months under the false impression that an EU plan to fight global warming included an obligation to develop controversial biofuels.

What seems to be a stunning misreading on the part of policymakers in Brussels comes at a time when the image of biofuels has shifted over a matter of a months from climate saviour to climate pariah.

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Documents issued by the EU describing its ambitious energy and climate plan, unveiled in January 2007, have consistently said that 10 percent of all the fuel powering vehicles would come from plants by 2020.

A closer reading of the texts by the ministers apparently revealed otherwise.

"The member states realised that the Commission's plan specifies that 10 percent of transport needs must come from renewable energy, not 10 percent from biofuels," Jean-Louis Borloo, the French environment and energy minister, said at the close of the three-day gathering.

Jurgen Homann, the junior economy and energy minister from Germany, also confirmed the misconception.

The ministers "discovered" that requirements for transport "do not speak of biofuels, but renewables," he told AFP.

The majority of biofuels produced in the world today are extracted from corn in the United States, sugar in Brazil, and both grain and oil-seed crops in Europe.

Heralded as recently as last year as a silver bullet in the fight against global warming, biofuels were seen as a relatively carbon-free way to fuel cars and trucks.

"A year ago you were considered an ogre if you were not in favor of biofuels," Borloo told journalists on the margin of the meeting.

In recent months, however, they have been fiercely criticised for driving up world food prices, diverting precious crop land, and aggravating deforestation.

An unpublished World Bank report blamed biofuels for a 75 percent rise in the price a basket of staple food items, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported Friday. The new reading of the EU "action plan" for energy and climate policy immediately raises the question of what -- if anything -- will replace biofuels in fulfilling the 10 percent transport requirement by 2020 for renewable energy.

"Things are changing very, very quickly," said Borloo, cited a number of new technologies under development ranging from hydrogen fuel to fuel cells.

At the same he acknowledged that "99.9 percent of the renewable fuel now available for vehicles is biofuel."

The EU plan calls for 20 percent of all energy needs in the 27-nation bloc to be met from renewable sources by 2020, and for an 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gases -- compared to 1990 levels -- by the same date.

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