EU agrees to stop bad biofuels after 2020

The full European Parliament today agreed to cap the use of land-based biofuels in transport, with the aim of being a check on the growing consumption of biofuels that increase carbon emissions compared to conventional diesel and petrol. Today’s vote marks the endgame for the EU’s public policy support for biofuels, after more than a decade. 

The decision will limit at 7% the use of biofuels that grow on land (also known as first-generation) that can count toward the 10% renewable energy target in transport by 2020. With this limit, Europe will prevent emissions of up to 320 million tonnes of CO2 [1], which would otherwise have been caused by extra bad biofuels needed to meet the 10% target. The emissions avoided equal to Poland’s total carbon emissions in 2012.

Moreover, for the first time the EU recognises in its legislation the indirect emissions caused by growing biofuels, known as indirect land-use change or ILUC. [2] Under the reform agreed today, oil companies and the European Commission will need to report the full environmental impact of biofuels, including ILUC emissions. This decision falls short of the full carbon accounting advocated by Transport & Environment [3], which would have made harmful biofuels consumed today ineligible to meet the European target.

Pietro Caloprisco, senior policy officer at Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “Maybe this is not the end of bad biofuels now. But this surely is the beginning of the end for pouring food in our tanks. The message is clear: land-based biofuels have no future in Europe, at least after 2020.”

Though T&E believes the 7% cap is too high [4], the idea of a cap is in line with the Commission’s 2030 climate and energy communication that states first-generation biofuels should not be supported after 2020 due to ILUC emissions.

T&E, along with nine environmental organisations, think that the biofuels reform has taught very important lessons that should now be applied in legislation on the use of biomass, such as wood and agricultural residues, for all bioenergy purpose. Among the NGO recommendations are: limits on the use of biomass for energy generation; introduction of comprehensive and binding sustainability criteria; and correct carbon accounting for biomass.

Pietro Caloprisco concluded: “Europe should learn from the biofuels reform and get things right from the beginning on bioenergy. Thus, we urge the European Commission to introduce the necessary sustainability checks for all bioenergy to ensure we don’t make the same mistake twice. Making the same mistake twice on bioenergy is not a mistake, it’s a deliberate choice.”


[1] According to the renewable energy action plans prepared by the member states in the framework of the RED, biofuels were expected to reach 8.6% in 2020 at EU level before the reform.

[2] ILUC happens when land previously used to grow crops for food is converted to grow crops for fuel. As food will have to be grown somewhere else because demand for it remains constant, this will result in an overall increase in emissions caused by biofuels. Learn more at

[3] The EU regulates the use of biofuels through two laws with a 2020 time horizon. The renewable energy directive (RED) sets a 10% target for renewable energy in transport. The fuel quality directive (FQD) requires a 6% reduction in the carbon footprint from transport fuels. In practice, these two targets led to EU countries subsidising and mandating biofuels to meet them, provided they reduced emissions compared with fossil fuels. Both laws therefore have rules for calculating the direct carbon emissions from biofuels, but these leave out ILUC emissions.

[4] In 2013, EU consumption of biofuels was at 4.7%. The cap therefore allows a substantial increase of first-generation biofuels consumption.

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Nico Muzi
Communications Director
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