EU transport will spew out extra CO2 the size of the Netherlands' emissions thanks to draft biofuel plan

The European Commission’s leaked draft proposal to continue supporting land-based biofuels until 2030 will increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from European transport over the period 2021-2030 by an amount equivalent to the emissions from the Netherlands in 2014. These are extra emissions from using these biofuels instead of regular diesel and petrol.

The draft proposal would also make EU transport’s GHG emissions look 478 million tonnes lower than they actually are over the period 2021-2030, compared with a phaseout of first-generation biodiesel in 2025 and first-generation bioethanol in 2030. This is because biofuels count as zero-emissions fuel in the draft proposal [1]. The extra emissions and the ‘hot air’ that the loophole would introduce is equivalent to the total emissions of France in 2014.

Annex X of the leaked Renewable Energy Directive states the Commission’s intention to continue promoting land-based biofuels and have them account for 3.8% of transport fuels in 2030. This is a mere 1.1% reduction from the 4.9% biofuels share in transport achieved already in 2014, and almost a contradiction of the Commission’s own Strategy for Low Emission Mobility that promised ‘phaseout of food-based biofuels’ in July.

Jori Sihvonen, biofuels officer at Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “Just four months after promising a phaseout of food-based biofuels, the European Commission proposes to still have them supply 3.8% of Europe’s transport energy in 2030. This is not a phaseout. It is business as usual, allowing the transport sector to pretend it is cleaning up on paper, while increasing its emissions on the road. Where have we seen this before?”

On average, biodiesel from virgin vegetable oil leads to around 80% higher emissions than the fossil diesel it replaces. 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 2014. Of all biodiesel, palm oil has the highest GHG emissions – three times worse for the climate than fossil diesel, because palm expansion drives deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

In 2014, 45% of all the palm oil used in Europe ended up in the tanks of cars and trucks. This number skyrocketed in only four years, as palm oil accounted for just 8% of biodiesel used in Europe in 2010.

Earlier work by Ecofys on behalf of T&E found that both biodiesel and bioethanol plants are built for a payback period of 5-10 years, and that 95% of investments in current biodiesel installations would be paid back at the end of 2017.

Jori Sihvonen concluded: “Biodiesel should be phased out well before 2030 given its devastating impacts on the world’s climate and tropical forests. The industry will have been given more than enough time to earn a decent payback on its investment; it’s time to turn the page and start a new era of truly green transport energy.”


[1] On average, first generation (1G) biofuels have GHG emissions 52% above those of the fossil fuel they replace, based on the biofuel mix of 2020. This is a weighted average of 81% higher GHG emissions from 1G biodiesel, and 33% lower GHG emissions from 1G bioethanol.

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Nico Muzi
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