Press Release

EU fails to address deforestation from palm and soy biofuels in update to green fuels law

March 31, 2023

T&E's reaction to the Renewable Energy Directive

In the final trilogue negotiations on the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED), agreed yesterday, the EU drastically increased its target for renewables in transport from 14% to 29%[1]. Negotiators also included an obligation on EU states to include electricity in their energy quotas for transport. However, a focus on quantity over quality will see a big role of damaging biofuels in Europe’s future energy mix. The Council and Commission’s failure to support a rapid phase out of soy and palm oil biofuels is a disaster for forests, says T&E.

Biofuels

Despite a push from the biofuels lobby to increase the role of crop-based biofuels, the cap will remain at 2020 levels and their use remains optional for member states. However, the Commission and Council rejected the EU Parliament’s proposal to immediately phase out palm and soy biofuels, which are heavily linked to the clearance of forests and conversion of peatlands.

On soy, the EU Commission is now tasked with reviewing the delegated act on high deforestation risk biofuels this year. Similarly, on palm, instead of an immediate phase-out, the Commission will assess the possibility of accelerating its removal from EU renewable energy targets. 

Barbara Smailagic, Fuels Policy Officer at T&E, said: “The EU had a chance today to stand up for forests by ending the use of palm and soy biofuels now. It has failed. But with a review still to come this year, the Commission has a chance to put this right. Every day it delays the removal of palm and soy biofuels from its green fuels law, hundreds of football pitches worth of forest are lost.” 

Renewable electricity

Currently most EU states simply require oil companies to blend so-called renewable liquids like ethanol or biodiesel to meet renewable energy targets. The update to the RED deal now includes an obligation on EU states to include electricity in their energy quotas for transport. This important change alters the balance of a law which previously only favoured biofuels and will mean that the oil industry is now going to have to finance renewable electricity in transport, says T&E. 

Geert Decock, Electricity & Energy Manager at T&E, said: “Following the revision of the RED, oil companies can comply by supplying renewable electricity. While this won’t grab the headlines, this represents a sea change in Europe’s fuel politics. Instead of a green fuels law focused on blending for a combustion engine age, we now have a green fuels law that reflects the future of electric mobility.”

RFNBOs and advanced biofuels

Decision makers agreed on a combined sub-target of 5.5% for advanced biofuels and hydrogen and e-fuels – so-called Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin (RFNBOs). A 1% binding target for RFNBOs is a major innovation for supplying more sustainable fuels to the transport sector, especially in helping to decarbonise aviation and shipping. However, the other 4.5% could be completely covered by advanced biofuels, which would drive up demand for unsustainable feedstocks like forestry residues (tree tops, branches, etc.) and manure from industrial livestock farming. 

Notes to editors

[1] The increased target in transport from 14% to 29% in energy terms should equal a reduction in carbon intensity of 14.5%.