EU approves more ambitious renewables target, commits to palm oil phase-out

The European Parliament has voted to approve a set of new clean energy laws for 2030, outlining plans to increase the bloc's use of renewable energy and ban the sale of high-emission biofuels made from palm and soybean oil.

Further policy agreements agreed as part of the EU’s Winter Package include an aim to increase energy efficiency across the bloc by 32.5%, against a 2016 baseline, and measures to phase out some of the highest-emitting biofuels made from palm and soybean oil.

The policies require each EU member state to present a 10-year integrated energy and climate plan with national targets, contributions and policies by 31 December 2019, and every 10 years thereafter. The European Council will then vote to approve or reject the proposals.

In a press conference following the vote, Michèle Rivasi, a Green Party MEP from France and co-rapporteur on the governance regulation, called the new piece of legislation “historic”.

“It is the most beautiful one adopted in this legislature,” she said. “It is very rare to have something so inclusive, synthetic and coherent and it shows what Europe is meant to be a few months from before the European elections.”

Summing up the results of the vote, climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete said: Four out of eight proposals of the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package have now been fully agreed, a signal that we are on the right track and that we will deliver on our pledge made at the beginning of the mandate.

“Our ambitious commitment to clean energy in Europe and the Paris Agreement will be made a reality by laws like the ones voted today.”

The transport challenge

The approval of the three laws came after MEPs provisionally reached an agreement in June, following the launch of consultations into a new Clean Energy Package in November 2016.

As per the provisional agreement, a key aspect of the package is a target for renewable energy in transport, which has been set at a binding level of 10.5% – a threefold increase on the current global average of 3%.

There will be a minimum 3.5% contribution for advanced biofuels such as wood residues, with the remaining 7% being accounted for by a mix of renewable electricity, electrofuels and recycled carbon fuels.

The soybean and palm oil portion of the legislation states that such fuels cannot grow above each country’s 2019 consumption levels and should gradually decline from 2023 onwards until reaching 0% in 2030 – a move that has been welcomed by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (EFT&E).

“Forcing motorists to burn palm oil in their cars because it’s supposedly green is appalling,” EFT&E’s clean fuels manager Laura Buffet said.

“It’s been a disaster for rainforests and wildlife, and it’s a major public relations disaster too. This new law gives the Commission three months to put an end to European governments subsidising the highest emitting biofuels such as palm oil and soy in diesel. The ball is now firmly in the European Commission’s court.”

EFT&E has previously published research claiming that palm oil has the highest greenhouse gas emissions of any biodiesel, with life-cycle emissions standing at three times the amount generated by fossil fuels.

The organisation additionally believes that if policymakers accounted for the “real-world” emissions of biofuels that are marketed as “zero-emission”, global road transport emission estimates would be 10% higher than current levels.

Sarah George  

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