Disillusioned EU Parliament passes new biofuel rules (dpa German Press Agency)

Strasbourg, France (dpa) – The European Union moved within reach Tuesday of new rules meant to limit the use of crop-based biofuels, even as legislators admitted that the policies are bound to disappoint.

“Am I very satisfied with the result? My honest answer would be … no,” said liberal lawmaker Nils Torvalds, who shepherded the rules through a European Parliament vote on Tuesday.

“But at the same time what you’re doing in the parliament [is that] you’re trying to get … your ass out of the chariot. Because if you’re just sitting in the chariot, nothing will be changed,” he added. “What we have achieved today is not a perfect result, but an important step in the right direction.”

Biofuels were once thought to offer a renewable energy source with less impact on climate change than fossil fuels. But their green credentials have been tarnished because virgin vegetation – such as rainforests – has been cleared to make way for biofuel crops.

They have also been criticized for spurring land grabs in the developing world and competing with food production, leading to shortages and higher prices.

Europe is the world’s largest user and importer of biodiesel, with Indonesia, Malaysia and Argentina among the main supplier countries, according to the Friends of the Earth campaign group.

The EU now hopes to limit the damage by reducing the use of crop-based biofuels in its transport sector by 2020. They are meant to be replaced by biofuels from waste or products such as straw, which do not require dedicated land.

The EU’s executive, the European Commission, had proposed capping the use of crop-based biofuels at 5 per cent of fuel usage in the transport sector, but legislators settled on a less aggressive compromise of 7 per cent.

EU governments now have to give their final approval, a move expected to be a formality. The bloc’s 28 member states would then have until 2017 to enact the new rules, which drew swift criticism from environmentalists.

“This reform has been undermined for five years by powerful vested interests within the biofuels industry,” Marc-Olivier Herman of the Oxfam anti-poverty organization complained.

“Nobody should be fooled by this deal: it is a major missed opportunity,” Green parliamentarian Bas Eickhout added.

But Pietro Caloprisco of the Transport and Environment advocacy group argued there is a silver lining, saying that “the message is clear: land-based biofuels have no future in Europe.”