Instead of helping the environment, most biofuels actually hurt it. Biodiesel is the most consumed biofuel in Europe today. The problem? European food-based biodiesel emits, on average, 80% more CO2 than fossil diesel.
The European Parliament will vote next week on whether to strengthen the proposal for Europe’s key climate law, the so-called Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) – or ‘Climate Action Regulation’, the name agreed by the environment committee. MEPs will be asked to back a more ambitious starting point than the European Commission’s proposal and to close some loopholes to ensure member states actually reduce their emissions.
Today, biofuels are mainly made from food crops and need large areas of land to be produced. Since most agricultural land is already being used to produce food for people, new areas have to be found to meet the ever-increasing demand for food and animal feed. This leads to deforestation and draining of rich ecosystems, releasing tonnes of greenhouse gases.
Only three European countries are pursuing climate policies that could deliver on the promises made at the Paris climate conference, according to a new ranking published by T&E and NGO Carbon Market Watch. Sweden, Germany and France top the ranking, which is based on the ambition being shown by member states as they negotiate the terms of the EU’s most powerful climate tool, the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR).
EU governments and MEPs are under pressure to consider phasing out the use of vegetable oils for biofuels by as early as 2020 after the European Parliament backed the move in a non-binding resolution this week. The Council and Parliament are currently drafting their common positions on reform of the Renewable Energy Directive, which will decide Europe’s biofuels policy up to 2030.
Food-based biofuels can still be counted towards the EU’s renewable energy target, the European Commission has proposed – in a stunning U-turn on its commitment to phase-out first-generation biofuels that are worse for the climate than fossil fuels. Member states will be able to use a maximum 3.8% share of food-based biofuels in transport towards the Renewable Energy Directive’s target for 2030, barely reduced from the current 4.9% market share at EU level.
By Jelena Simjanovic, clean energy directorWHAT I LEARNED IN 2016: I joined T&E in late summer, soon after the European Commission published its Low-emission Mobility Strategy. Its goals looked promising: increasing efficiency of the transport system; speeding up the development of low-emission alternative energy for transport; and moving towards zero-emission vehicles. While I had a general idea about biofuels and sustainability issues around them, I entered the transport world after 10 years of working on a variety of energy sector issues and carbon markets. I feel privileged to have a job where I can learn as much as I have learned in the past five months, while at the same time utilising my extensive knowledge of the electricity and energy markets for the discussion on transport electrification and development.