High-emitting, food-based biofuels should still be subsidised, say industry MEPs

An environmentally ruinous ‘renewable’ energy target for transport should be continued in 2030, according to members of the European Parliament’s industry committee. The report adopted last week is at odds with that of MEPs on the environment committee who want the target scrapped and a phase-out of the support to crop-based biodiesel in 2030.

The European Commission had also excluded a target for renewables in transport and focused instead on a target for advanced fuels in its proposed recast of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

There have been growing calls for an end to the use of food-based biofuels in Europe. Last week a group of 177 Dutch scientists publicly urged the Netherlands to back a phase-out of crop-based biofuels in the EU. ‘In short, a mixture of fuel crop oil relies on the unfounded assumption that this leads to more sustainable fuel use, but in reality causes ecological and social degradation,’ the scientists wrote. ‘The policy serves as a veil that obscures the risks involved in fossil fuels while offering no more than a false solution for our energy requirements.’

Campaigners oppose a ‘renewable’ target for transport because it would mean subsidising the use of high-emitting, food-based biofuels for another decade while also pushing up global food prices and negatively impacting on people around the world who live on the land.

T&E’s clean fuels manager, Laura Buffet, said: ‘If history is any indication, Europe should stop subsidising food-based biofuels. The science has proven time and again that most food-based biofuels in Europe increase emissions and drive deforestation. We urge the full European Parliament to support the phase out of food-based biofuels in 2030 and reject any new crop biofuels target in transport.’

The industry committee also backed a 10% blending mandate for advanced fuels, including advanced biofuels and renewable electricity. But the proposal has an inadequate sustainability framework, meaning that the target is too high to be sustainable, especially when it comes to advanced biofuels. The MEPs supported widening the definition of advanced biofuels to anything that is not produced from food or feed crops. Under such a definition, unsustainable feedstocks, including co-products of the palm oil industry would qualify. In principle, the raw materials for advanced biofuels should be limited to waste and residues, which comply with the waste hierarchy, cascading use and strong sustainability criteria.

EU food-based biodiesel produces, on average, 80% more CO2 emissions than the fossil diesel it replaces, according to T&E’s analysis which is based on the results of the Globiom study for the European Commission. Biodiesel made from soy is two times worse for the climate than fossil diesel. European rapeseed biodiesel, produces 20% more emissions than diesel, when land-use change emissions (ILUC) are accounted for. Four out of five litres of biofuel consumed in Europe is biodiesel.

In October the Parliament’s environment committee called for the phase out the support for biodiesel from vegetable oils in 2030 and terminate the use of palm oil biodiesel as early as 2021. They also voted to increase the overall target for advanced fuels to 9% of fuels supplied in 2030. The Parliament’s plenary will vote on its final position on the week of 15 January 2018. The Commission’s proposal will then be amended and finalised in trilogue negotiations with MEPs and national governments.