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In October 2007, a highly publicized environmental forum, referred to as the “Grenelle de l’environnement,” took place in Paris.  The aim of the forum was to help define the French government policy on ecological and sustainable development issues for the next five years. The forum was organized by the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Planning and Development.  It included representatives from the State, unions, employers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and local authorities.  Bio-fuels were the subject of one of the round tables.  The forum resulted in many recommendations to combat global warming and protect the environment.[1]

The French government currently has in place a legislative framework and several fiscal incentives for the production and use of bio-fuels.  There is, for example, a general tax on pollutant activities (TGAP) sometimes called an “ecotax” whose rate is diminished by the percentage of energy content of bio-fuel present in the fuel sold.  The government is dedicated to go further than the objective set forth by EU Directive 2003/30/EC that prescribes the use of bio-fuels at a rate of 5.75 percent in transportation by 2010.  The national objective instead is to reach this percentage in 2008 and to increase it to seven percent.[2]

Growing concerns, however, have been raised about the final environmental impact of bio-fuels, taking into account the energy spent to grow the plants, the chemicals used to boost yields, and the water they consume.  A 2007 report entitled French Energy Prospects 2020-2050, prepared by the French environmental agency, the Agence de l’environmemt et de la maîtrise de l’énergie, calls for stopping any new investment in the production of first generation bio-fuels.  It recommends waiting for the results of the research and development on second generation bio-fuels.[3] 

This issue was addressed during the round table.  It was decided that before any action be taken a comprehensive and adversarial study on the ecological and energy effects of the first generation of agro/bio-fuels would be undertaken by the French environmental agency. This study would help in deciding the place of bio-fuels in France’s energy portfolio for the future.  It was also stated that France would support a certification mechanism at the European and world levels for bio-fuels production activities and that research and development of second generation bio-fuels would be accelerated.[4]

At the end of the forum, President Nicolas Sarkozy stated in his conclusion speech that: [5]

We must also revisit our policy of supporting bio-fuels in the future, without calling into question the commitments made.  I want priority to be given to the development of second-generation bio-fuels, which better address both the environmental challenge and the food challenge. 

At this time the French environmental agency has been charged with performing the study recommended during the forum, and it does not appear from a review of the pending legislation before the National Assembly or the Senate that any legislative action addressing sustainability criteria for bio-fuels has been yet taken.  This is confirmed by a recent answer of the French Minister of Ecology to a question from a Member of the National Assembly on the real benefits of bio-fuels.[6]  He stated that:

The Committee on Bio-masse and Bio-fuels has started a study regarding sustainability criteria associated with farming practices, in examining the criteria proposed by the countries that are currently putting into place at the national level a certification system or a mandatory evaluation system (The Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany).

He further added that a proposal for a Directive on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources would address criteria and monitoring methods to be used to set forth a bio-fuels sustainability regime.  Finally, he said that France will support a certification mechanism of bio-fuels chains at the European and world levels that take into account their environmental and economic impacts.

On January 23, 2008, the European Commission published its proposal for a Renewable Energy Directive.[7]  The proposal set forth “stringent environmental sustainability criteria to ensure that bio-fuels that are to count towards the European targets are sustainable and are not in conflict with the overall environmental goals…. they must achieve a least a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings and respect a number of requirement related to biodiversity.”[8]  Article 15 of the proposal provides for these criteria in paragraphs two to five. They are as follows:

  • the green house gas emission saving from the use of bio-fuels and other bio-liquids must be at least 35 percent;

  • bio-fuels and bio-liquids must not have been made from raw material obtained from land “with recognized high biodiversity value.”  This include: forests undisturbed by significant human activity; areas designed for nature protection purposes; and highly bio-diverse grassland;

  • bio-fuels and bio-liquids must not have been made from raw material obtained from land with high carbon stock that is to say wetlands and continuously forested areas; and

  • agricultural raw material cultivated in the Community and used for the production of bio-fuels and other bio-liquids must be obtained in conformity with the requirements set forth in point A of Annex III to Council Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003 and Article 5(1) of that Regulation.[9]

In addition to setting forth the sustainability criteria, the proposed Directive establishes a system to verify that Member States comply with such criteria and a method to calculate the greenhouse gas impact of bio-fuels and other bio-liquids.[10]

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Prepared by Nicole Atwill
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
January 2008

[1]  Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement et de l’Aménagement durables, Le Grenelle Environnement, (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

[2]  Ministère de l’Economie, des Finances et de l’Industrie, La politique gouvernementale en faveur des biocarburants, (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

[3]  Centre d’Analyse Stratégique, Les perspectives énergétiques de la France à l’horizon 2020-2050, available at

[4]  Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement et de l’Aménagement durables, Le Grenelle Environnement, Relevé de la quatrième partie de la table ronde, (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

[5]  Premier Ministre, presentation of the grenelle Environment Forum conclusions speech by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, (last visited Jan. 29, 2008). 

[6]  Réponse du Ministère de l’Ecologie, du Développement et de l’Aménagement durables ministre à la question de M. Havard Michel, Journal officiel [France’s official Gazette], Jan. 08, 2008, 166.

[7]  Portal of the European Union Commission, Proposal for a Directive on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources  (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

[8]  Portal of the European Union Commission, Climate Action, Background Memorandum, (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

[9]  Council Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003 of 29 September 2003 establishing common rules for direct support schemes under the common agricultural policy and establishing certain support schemes for farmers, Official Journal of the European Union, available at (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

[10]  Portal of the European Union Commission, Proposal for a Directive on the Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources, arts 16 and 17,  (last visited Jan. 29, 2008).

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Last Updated: 02/18/2014