No clean fuels: fewer headaches for Commission, more for the planet

They say there are two options to push out bad news – publish it on a Friday, or bury it in a much bigger announcement. On transport fuels, the European Commission has chosen the latter strategy.

Its much-hyped paper on a 2030 climate and energy policy contained exactly one sentence on the topic:
‘The Commission does not think it appropriate to establish new targets for renewable energy or the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in the transport sector or any other sub-sector after 2020.’
In one sentence, which was, of course, neither consulted on or impact-assessed, the Commission wants to put an end to all legislation regarding the climate impact of transport fuels.
Now, we have never made it a secret that we severely disliked the 10% renewable energy target for transport; it is a ‘quantity over quality’ target. Rather unsurprisingly, most of the 10% will be filled with biodiesel, which has been shown to have higher emissions than normal diesel, so we won’t shed many tears over its demise.
But also scrapping the 6% fuel decarbonisation target is throwing away a precious baby with the dirty bathwater. This ‘quality over quantity’ tool can in the longer run clean up Europe’s transport fuels – by decreasing reliance on ultra-dirty fossil fuels such as unconventional oil, and by promoting better biofuels.
So why did the Commission do this? Simple: in the hope of fewer headaches. The Commission has found cleaning up biofuels and classifying North American high-carbon oil as, indeed, high-carbon, politically a bit difficult – especially now that Europe really wants to agree free trade deals with Canada and the US.
The problem is that this medicine might take away some headache symptoms, but would surely exacerbate its root cause: it makes the struggle to find a cost-effective path out of our energy and climate crisis even harder. Why? Because the Commission is essentially saying: whatever that path towards a solution is, cleaner transport fuels will not be part of it. So it rules out one vitally important avenue for emissions reductions. And if you do that, the cost of your climate policy will go up, and we Europeans will pay for that. (Or simply, emissions will increase; let’s not be so cynical as to think that’s what the Commission is after!)
The match to decide post-2020 climate and energy policy has only just started, unfortunately with an own goal: a good day for big oil, a bad one for everyone else and the planet. But we all know that matches are decided in the final, not the opening, minutes.