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Report: Sustainable Alternatives for Land-based Biofuels in the European Union

Putting EU green transport policy back on track

European countries are ramping up biofuel use in an effort to meet their obligations under EU objectives to decarbonise energy in the transport sector. But green transport targets for 2020 in the renewable energy directive (RED) and fuel quality directive (FQD) have largely served to incentivise damaging technologies, in particular unsustainable “land-based biofuels” [1].

The RED requires EU countries to replace 10 percent of the energy used for road and rail transport from renewables, while the FQD requires fuel suppliers to reduce the carbon intensity of fuel by 6 percent by 2020.

Greenpeace, Transport & Environment, the European Environmental Bureau and BirdLife Europe have commissioned environmental research institute CE Delft to examine genuinely sustainable solutions for the decarbonisation of Europe’s transport energy sector. The report [2] examines a range of scenarios to meet the RED and FQD targets without or with significantly less land-based biofuels than currently in use, including conservative estimates of the potential of sustainable biofuels.

The report shows how EU transport energy policy could reduce its reliance on damaging biofuels. This alternative vision for the transport sector in 2020 would cut CO2 by 205 million tonnes, compared to just over 60 million tonnes under a recent proposal [3] from the European Commission to adjust existing policy [4]. It would allow EU countries to meet their targets while avoiding the displacement of food production to new land, increased carbon emissions and continued habitat destruction caused by land-based biofuels.

A pathway to greener transport includes:

  • Energy savings in the transport sector of 15 percent by 2020, through measures such as improved vehicle efficiency and a shift of transport from road to rail. Reducing energy demand will also lower the amount of renewable energy required to fulfil the renewable transport target.
  • The immediate accounting of indirect land use change emissions from biofuels under the EU’s renewable energy directive and fuel quality directive.
  • A robust cap limiting the use of land-based biofuels to current levels and a pathway towards near zero usage by 2020.
  • An increase in the use of renewable electricity in road and rail transport to over 1 percent (152 petajoules) of overall demand by 2020.
  • The consumption of about 3 percent of non-land-based, sustainable biofuels from waste and residues in 2020 (350 petajoules), consisting mainly of biomethane from agricultural waste and biodiesel from waste fats.
  • In the production of oil-based transport fuels, a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas flaring and venting.
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Footnotes: 

[1] Land-based biofuels are produced from crops or fruits that are grown on agricultural or silvicultural land, as opposed to biofuels produced from waste and residues.

[2] CE Delft, December 2012. Sustainable Alternatives for Land-based Biofuels in the European Union: Assessment of options and development of a policy strategy. Authors: Bettina Kampman, Anouk van Grinsven and Harry Croezen. Report commissioned by Greenpeace, Transport & Environment, BirdLife Europe and European Environmental Bureau.

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/biofuels/doc/biofuels/com_2012_0595_en.pdf