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  • EU ends target for food-based biofuels and phases out palm oil in cars only in 2030

    European countries will no longer be forced to subsidise food-based biofuels to meet the EU’s future green energy targets, under an agreement reached early this morning by EU governments, the European Parliament and the Commission. For those EU countries that decide to mandate food-based biofuels after 2020, the deal limits their contribution to the levels achieved nationally in 2020.

    Palm and soybean oil biofuels cannot grow above each country’s 2019 consumption levels and should gradually decline from 2023 onwards until reaching 0% in 2030. Yet despite citizens’ appeals, French farmers’ protests and Parliament’s previous decision to stop support for palm oil biodiesel by 2021, the deal allows for the highest-emitting biofuel to still count towards the EU’s green energy targets until 2030. Whilst the principle of phasing out high-emitting biofuels such as palm and soy is enshrined in the new law, the Commission still needs to come up with a methodology by 2019 to make the phase out operational.

    Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager at Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “The EU has removed the single biggest driver for food based biofuel expansion in Europe: the infamous transport target. Governments now have no more excuse to force drivers to burn food or palm oil in their tanks after 2020 and should design policies that promote the use of renewable electricity or biofuels based on wastes and residues.”

    For advanced fuels the new law sets a de facto target of 7%. Half of that will need to come from advanced biofuels from waste and residues whilst the rest is expected to come from renewable electricity and other fuels. In reality the shares of advanced biofuels and renewable electricity will be lower because of multipliers of 2 and 4 respectively.

    Laura Buffet concluded: “Europeans don’t want to be forced to burn palm oil or food in their cars. It’s a disaster for the climate and biodiversity. It’s a disgrace that Europeans could be burning palm oil for another 12 years and very sad to see the European Commission play such an obstructive role in the final negotiations. But the battle is not over: each European government can in 2021 decide to ditch palm oil and other food-based biofuels.”

    The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive was introduced to accelerate the uptake of renewables such as solar and wind but its transport chapter has promoted the use of food crops like palm oil, rapeseed oil and soy oil to make biofuels. Biodiesel made from virgin vegetable oil is the most popular and cheapest biofuel in the European market with a market share of three-quarters in 2017. Of all biodiesel, palm oil has the highest greenhouse gas emissions – three times the emissions of fossil diesel, because palm expansion drives deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. Last year, 51% of the palm oil used in Europe ended up in the tanks of cars and trucks. This makes drivers the top (albeit unaware) consumers of palm oil in Europe.

    Biofuels can be counted as zero emissions energy for climate accounting purposes. If we would properly account for biofuels’ overall emissions, road transport emissions would be 10% higher.