If left unchanged, EU legislation promoting biofuels for transport will lead to higher, not lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. T&E and other environmental organisations are campaigning for Europe to fully address the environmental impact of indirect land use change (ILUC) caused by biofuel production. Read about the EU biofuels policies, download our briefing on the most recent ILUC study and take a look at a dedicated website on bioenergy.

What's happening?

Under the terms of the EU's Renewable Energy Directive (RED), EU member states are required to source 10% of transport energy from renewable sources, mainly biofuels, by 2020.  We also have another law, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), that has a carbon intensity reduction target of 6% until 2020. The FQD and RED include ‘sustainability criteria’ that dictate the minimum CO2 savings biofuels should achieve compared with fossil fuels in order to qualify for the scheme (and receive state subsidies). These criteria account only for the emissions that occur when land is converted specifically to grow biofuel crops (direct land-use change). However, they do not take into account the emissions linked to indirect land-use change (ILUC). When ILUC is taken into account, some biofuels lead to more GHG emissions than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace.

In October 2012, the European Commission proposed  to introduce mandatory reporting of ILUC emissions, thereby acknowledging the climate impact of indirect emissions from biofuels. However, because it didn't include “ILUC factors” as part of the sustainability criteria, the Commission missed the opportunity to correctly account greenhouse gas emissions for biofuels and steer bioenergy production in a sustainable direction. Instead of correct accounting, the Commission proposed to limit the consumption of biofuels from food crops to current levels of around 5% of the target.

Following this proposal, the European Parliament and the Council started to discuss the issue, but the two institutions did not manage to align their positions in first reading. They finally reached a compromise in 2nd reading and the so-called “ILUC Directive” was officially published in September 2015. The final reform of the EU biofuels policy now includes a 7% limit on biofuels from land-based biofuels (food and energy crops) that can be counted towards the 10% target. However, member states have the option to set up a lower limit and also to apply the cap to the FQD target. Moreover, there is a mandatory reporting of ILUC emissions, but “ILUC factors” are still not included in the sustainability criteria. This omission means that the most damaging biofuels will still be allowed to count towards renewable targets. Ultimately, the final version of the EU reform sets an indicative 0.5% target for so-called second-generation biofuels. Read our press release on the final text, and our blogpost explaining why Europe needs to prioritize quality over quantity in the future.

Over the last years, there has been an increased focus on how the framework to decarbonize transport fuels should look like after 2020. In its communication on the 2030 climate and energy framework published in 2014, the European Commission had already indicated that food-based biofuels have a limited role to decarbonize the transport sector and that the 10% target should be discontinued after 2020. More recently, in its European strategy for low-emission mobility – released in July 2016 – the Commission reinforced that signal and highlighted that it was focusing on the “gradual phase out” of food-based biofuels and their “replacement by more advanced biofuels”. The new Renewable Energy Package and the sustainability policy for bioenergy, expected by the end of 2016, should clarify how these positive elements will be implemented in practice.


Key statistics


EU transport emissions (2014)

Transport has become the single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe



Biofuels and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED)

EU member states are required to source 10% of transport energy from renewable sources, mainly biofuels, by 2020. Following the ILUC reform, only 7% of this renewables target can be land-based biofuels.

What is ILUC (indirect land-use change)?

The RED has generated greater demand for biofuels and therefore for agricultural land. Carbon stores such as forests and peatlands are converted to crop fields, which results in a loss of biodiversity and increases in greenhouse gas emissions as sequestered carbon is liberated. These indirect emissions are currently not accounted for when biofuels are considered for the RED.

How much land will be converted?


According to the globiom study land expansion leads to 6.7 million hectares of land conversion globally when assuming a 7% cap for food-based biofuels

Extra emissions due to ILUC

952 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 2011-2020, bigger than EU GHG emissions from domestic transport in 2014

Palm oil in biodiesel

The amount of palm oil used in biodiesel has increased significantly in recent years. Cars and trucks now burn almost half of palm oil used in Europe.


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