Getting the most out of Europe's bioenergy potential
Developing new bioenergy crops needs to take account of the environmental risks associated with large-scale bioenergy production, says the report. Energy crops are expected to use more of Europe's farmlands over the years to come and environmental limits will be needed to avoid damaging impacts on the environment overall.
Soaring energy prices and strong political support are driving the increase in production of biomass. This should not contribute to further ecological strains -already arising from current agricultural production, says the study. The report analyses the 'environmentally compatible' potential of biomass production in 25 EU Member States and warns that Europe's biodiversity, waters and soils could be threatened unless significant protective measures are put in place.
The EEA report presents a range of recommendations for making energy cropping compatible with the environment, including:
- Devoting at least 30 % of agricultural land area to 'environmentally orientated' farming. A large number of Member States are already on track to achieve the minimum share by combining organic farming and High Nature Value farmland, particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe.
- At least 3 % of intensively cultivated land should be set aside as ecological compensation areas. This measure could halt the loss of bird populations by providing non-cropped habitats and maintain links between zones covered by European ecological networks such as Natura 2000.
- Certain types of extensive farming, such as permanent grassland, dehesas and traditional olive groves, should not be converted to arable energy crops.
The report also promotes some general approaches to minimise the impact of biomass production on Europe's environment. For example, new crops 'should not require irrigation, intensive pesticide and fertilizer use' and should not be grown in monoculture, supporting farmland diversity.
The report reviews specific policy mechanisms for encouraging environmentally sound bioenergy cropping. These include rules for energy cropping practices, incentives for environmentally friendly energy crops and advice to farmers. Policy efforts will be required to ensure that food, feed and biomass production in agriculture become environmentally compatible.
- EEA Technical report No 12/2007: Estimating the environmentally compatible bioenergy potential from agriculture
- EEA Executive Director, Professor Jacqueline McGlade's speech at the EEAC Workshop, Brussels, 29 January 2008: Unintended effects: the need for a proper assessment framework for agrofuels