Further decarbonisation of transport through a shift to alternative fuels and electro-mobility forms a major part of the European Commission’s strategy for an ‘energy union’, unveiled last week. With transport being responsible for more than 30% of EU energy consumption and a quarter of emissions, the Commission said legislation on ‘decarbonising the transport sector, including an action plan on alternative fuels’ would be put forward in 2017.
Members of the European Parliament's environment committee have backed a 6% limit on land-based biofuels that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020. Critics say many of these so-called first-generation biofuels drive up global food prices and emit as much carbon as conventional fossil fuel and even more in some cases.
The new Commission appears to be planning to keep EU rules on fuel quality to encourage greener transport fuels after 2020, following an interview given by the new energy commissioner Maroš Šefčovič.
Greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 were 7% lower than they would have been if renewable energy had not made considerable progress in recent years, according to a report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA).
Two new reports have highlighted the continuing massive amounts of money with which the world’s leading industrial nations subsidise fossil fuels, saying they ‘lead to a misallocation of resources’ and ‘rig the game against renewables’.
EU governments last week agreed three modest targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, increase the share of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency by 2030. Environmental groups said the goals would not do enough to cut Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels and put it on track to meet its own 2050 climate pledges.
The Commission finally published rules to implement the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) last month, but environmental campaigners say they will fail to discourage oil companies from using and investing in higher-polluting oil such as tar sands and coal-to-liquid.
New research from the US has highlighted the dangers for the fight against climate change if the EU does nothing to reduce dependence on dirty oil such as Canadian tar sands. The US Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says if the EU Fuel Quality Directive is not comprehensively implemented, the amount of tar sands oil imported from Canada by 2020 will be 175 times greater than in 2012. This flood of tar sands would increase the carbon intensity of European fuels by 1.5%, making it more difficult and more expensive to meet the FQD’s 6% target by 2020.
Efforts to reduce the amount of food crops used to make transport fuels have suffered a setback with the defeat of a proposal that would have limited how much of the EU’s renewable fuels target could be made up from food-based biofuels. T&E said the proposal “was ugly, but the status quo is even worse”.
Hopes of having the full social and environmental effects of biofuels reflected in EU legislation before 2020 are fading after another round of negotiations led to further weakening of the European Commission’s proposal. With an agreement likely in the Council of Ministers next month, it looks as if the requirement for member states to report the effects of indirect land-use change (ILUC) will be further weakened. Also, food-based biofuels that are worse for climate change than traditional petrol and diesel will be allowed to increase by 50% from today’s levels and will not be capped under the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).