This modelling study, published in Global Change Biology, finds that if indirect land use change (iLUC) factors are not accounted for when assessing the GHG balance of biofuels, then “the Renewable Energy Directive could be expected to deliver only a 4% carbon saving compared to fossil fuel, with a 30% chance that it would actually cause a net emissions increase.”
Including iLUC factors ensures that biofuels policies actually achieve the savings they are intended to deliver. Its modelling finds that “there is a 94% chance that introducing iLUC factors would improve the carbon saving per unit of energy achieved by EU biofuels policy by at least 20 percentage points, with an expected benefit of 49 percentage points, i.e. iLUC factors would be expected to be a very effective policy intervention. Adding iLUC factors would also minimize the risk of negative climate effects from European biofuels policy.”
The European Commission has a mandate from the EU’s Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives to propose a methodology, consistent with the best available science, to address indirect land use change (iLUC). One proposed solution to the iLUC problem is the application of iLUC factors in European fuels policy – it is widely expected that should the EU adopt such iLUC factors, they would be based on iLUC modelling using the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) MIRAGE model. Taking the iLUC factors from IFPRI MIRAGE as our central estimate, we use Monte Carlo analysis on a simple model of potential biofuel pathways for Europe to assess the likely average carbon saving from three possible European biofuel policy scenarios: no action on iLUC; raised GHG thresholds for direct emissions savings; and the introduction of iLUC factors. We find that without iLUC factors (or some other effective iLUC minimization approach) European biofuel mandates are unlikely to deliver significant GHG emissions benefits in 2020, and have a substantial probability of increasing net GHG emissions. In contrast, the implementation of iLUC factors is likely to significantly increase the carbon savings from EU biofuel policy. With iLUC factors, it is likely that most permitted pathways would conform to the Renewable Energy Directive requirement for a minimum 50% GHG reduction compared to fossil fuels.
Malins C (2012). A model-based quantitative assessment of the carbon benefits of introducing iLUC factors in the European Renewable Energy Directive, Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2012.01207.x
You can access the paper here (open access).