Biofuels

In its current form the EU law promoting biofuels for transport will lead to higher, not lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions up to 2020. Furthermore, for the period 2020-2030, the EU could still allow some unsustainable biofuels in the market, including rapeseed and palm oil biodiesel, as the Commission has only proposed a 3.8% limit on food-based biofuels without accounting for their full climate impacts. T&E and other environmental organisations are campaigning for Europe to stop promoting the use of unsustainable biofuels after 2020 and to fully address the environmental impact of indirect land use change (ILUC) caused by biofuel production. Find out more about our position on the latest Commission proposal on biofuels, download our briefing on the most recent ILUC study (Globiom) and take a look at a dedicated website on the biofuels reform.

 

What's happening?

Adopted in 2009, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) promotes the use of biofuels by setting a national target for the use of renewable energy in the transport sector - 10% of the energy consumed in transport must come from renewable sources by 2020.  On the other hand, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) sets a carbon intensity reduction target of 6% on each fuel supplier in 2020. This drove a rapid uptake of biofuels, mainly from food crops.

None of these pieces of legislation account for the full climate emissions of biofuels. They do not take into account the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) linked to Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), which occurs when land is used for growing crops for biofuels. In some cases, these ILUC emissions are so high that some biofuels lead to higher GHG emissions than the fossil fuel they replace, when taking into account  the whole life-cycle emissions. This is the case for biodiesel made from vegetable oils (rapeseed, palm oil, soy and sunflower).

In an attempt to tackle the ILUC issue, EU legislators embarked in 2012 in the so-called ‘ILUC reform’. The co-decision process - which took a long time - ended in 2015 with the adoption of a 7% limit on the amount of food-based biofuels that can be counted to achieve the 10% target for renewables in transport. 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 and therefore receive support. Ultimately, the final version of the EU reform sets an indicative 0.5% target for so-called second-generation biofuels.

The Commission has been signalling at several occasions its intention to gradually phase-out support - both policy and financial - for food-based biofuels. This has been communicated both in its 2014 Communication on the 2030 climate and energy framework and also in the European strategy for low-emission mobility – released in July 2016.

Finally, in November 2016, the European Commission published a proposal for a recast of the Renewable Energy Directive, known as RED II. This proposal is a step in the right direction as it tries to move away from food-based biofuels and towards  more advanced and sustainable sources of energy for transport. However, it would still allow member states to support food-based biofuels in 2030, as the Commission only proposes to decrease the limit from 7% in 2020 to 3.8% in 2030. Given that the RED II doesn’t take into account the full life-cycle emissions of the biofuel feedstocks (i.e. ILUC emissions) this would still allow for the high-emitting biofuels to count towards renewable targets in 2030.

 

Key statistics

 

EU transport emissions (2014)

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

Biofuels

 

Biofuels and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED)

RED II - Co-decision ongoing

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.

The European Commission is proposing to reduce the maximum amount of food-based biofuels from 7% to 3.8% in 2030. Fuel suppliers are obliged to blend 6.8% of advanced fuels (including renewable electricity and advanced biofuels) by 2030.

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.

 

Food-based biofuels: cure worse than the disease

Food-based biofuels: cure worse than the disease

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