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  • Opposition that risks having no clean future for liquid transport fuels

    Opinion by Jos Dings - T&E director People who follow our work – and Europe’s environmental policy – a little bit will have noticed that two fuels-related draft laws keep dragging on without any apparent progress. The first one is what to do about indirect land use change effects of biofuels (key words: Iluc, biodiesel). The second is whether or not to give petrol and diesel from unconventional fossil sources a higher lifecycle greenhouse gas default value (key words: fuel quality directive, tar sands).

    The two issues seem rather unconnected, and rather technical. But they are neither, and together they will determine whether there is a low carbon future for liquid transport fuels in Europe or not.

    The common factor is that both issues are about properly measuring the carbon footprint of liquid transport fuels, the fossil and bio varieties which deliver 99% of transport’s energy. This is important because Europe’s two fuel laws, the directives on renewable energy sources and on fuel quality, both say that the carbon footprint of fuels on the EU market has to shrink over time. For that reason, properly measuring that carbon footprint becomes of paramount importance.

    There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that indirect land-use change (Iluc) caused when crops are grown to make biofuels is real and very significant, and that the carbon footprint of fuel made from tar sands and coal to liquid is much higher than fuels made from conventionally extracted crude oil. And that explains our position on each of these files: assign ‘default values’ for that carbon footprint as precisely as possible to different kinds of fuels and production processes, while leaving producers options to prove they do better than the default. That is the only way to give a consistent signal to the market that low-carbon fuels are welcome and high-carbon ones are not, and hence the only way to change the direction of investment and to drive improvements on all fuel production pathways.

    Rather unsurprisingly, an unholy coalition of high-carbon fuel producers – in particular Canada, the biodiesel lobby and the oil industry – is trying to stop this happening. And yet their opposition places a huge bet on their own future. Somehow, I think that if they win this battle, it would be a very pyrrhic victory. Failing to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of liquid fuels means they will not be a solution towards a low-carbon energy future in transport.

    I don’t think they have thought through the consequences of their opposition. If we can’t get a reliable carbon footprint for liquid fuels, it would be an open invitation to policymakers to leave behind the mantra of ‘technology neutrality’ and become much more aggressive in promoting and mandating alternative energy sources such as electricity. Is that what the oil industry really wants?

    It’s not yet too late. Come on Commission, yes you can …. propose Iluc values for biofuels and default values for high-carbon fossil fuels. Just do it.