Leaked biofuel plan set to increase European transport emissions

A leaked draft of the European Commission's (EC) Renewable Energy Directive (RED) has revealed that a promised phase-out of food-based biodiesels will not be met, with new proposals set to increase European transport emissions by 219 million tonnes by 2030.

The leaked document has shown that the EC intends to source 3.8% of European transport fuels from land-based biofuels between 2021 to 2030, despite pledging to phase-out these biofuels as part of the Strategy for Low Emission Mobility blueprint.

The reluctance to remove biofuels from the fuel mix could add 219 million tonnes to the European transport sector, according to Transport & Environment (T&E), which is equivalent to the Netherland’s emissions in 2014.

T&E’s biofuels officer Jori Sihvonen said: “Just four months after promising a phase-out of food-based biofuels, the European Commission proposes to still have them supply 3.8% of Europe’s transport energy in 2030. This is not a phase-out. It is business as usual, allowing the transport sector to pretend it is cleaning up on paper, while increasing its emissions on the road.

“Biodiesel should be phased out well before 2030 given its devastating impacts on the world’s climate and tropical forests. The industry will have been given more than enough time to earn a decent payback on its investment; it’s time to turn the page and start a new era of truly green transport energy.”

Transport is responsible for around a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second-biggest emitting sector after energy. It is also the only major EU sector where emissions today are well above their 1990 levels, making its decarbonisation vital if the EU is to hit its climate change goals.

According to T&E, land-based biofuels – dubbed 1G biofuels – have emission levels 52% above the traditional diesel and fossil fuels they will replace. When looking solely at 1G biodiesel, this figure rises to 81%. T&E also noted that because these biofuels would count as “zero-emission fuels”, they would make the European Union’s (EU) transport emissions look 478 million tonnes lower than they actually are.

Vegetable oils from crops such as palm oil and soy are blended with fossil diesel to create biodiesel. However, these crops cause direct and indirect land-use change (ILUC) emissions, as carbon sinks are turned into crops.

The leaked RED proposals intend to keep the 3.8% figure for 2030, which is little over 1% less than the 4.9% share that biofuels had in transport in 2014. This is despite July’s Strategy for Low Emission Mobility promising to phase-out 1G biofuels.

Britain’s biofuels

According to T&E, the phase-out should ensure that all 1G biofuels above the EU-wide cap – which is currently 7% for 2020 – do not count towards Member States’ renewable energy targets.

This is an area where the UK is already struggling. Despite setting a 15% target for energy from renewable sources in 2020, the EC’s leaked report revealed that the UK is currently sitting at 1.3%. In fact, data from the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has revealed that UK importation and consumption of palm oil-based biodiesel for use as a feedstock for vehicles stands at ‘zero’ for 2015/16.

The current directive, adopted in 2008, requires each EU member state to have “at least 10%” renewable energy used in transport by 2020 – including from biofuels and other sources like green electricity.

After criticism from the UK – which would have to double its current biofuel supply in order to comply with these goals – the EC could drop the 10% target in the new RED proposal.

Matt Mace

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