What's the problem and how can we fix it?


The EU’s transport fuels policies have failed to support the cleanest alternatives to decarbonise transport, mainly because it did not account for the emissions associated with clearing land to grow crops for biofuels. In many cases, the cure has been worse than the disease.

 

The 2009 RED set a target for renewables in transport for the year 2020. Due to the lack of proper sustainability criteria and emissions accounting (fail to consider indirect land use change - ILUC - emissions), this target has driven up the use of food based biofuels such as palm oil and wheat, leading to expansion of croplands at the expense of high carbon stock areas such as tropical forests and peatlands.  

Ten years and two policy reforms later (the “ILUC reform” and the REDII), there is some progress, although it is far from perfect. The use of food and feed based biofuels is limited in Europe, and palm oil biodiesel won’t count towards the EU renewable targets by 2030. Furthermore, there is a tendency to focus the support of advanced fuels, including advanced biofuels, renewable electricity and renewable hydrogen and synthetic fuels. 

However, the use of food and feed biofuels is still allowed and predominant in Europe. The phase-out of palm oil comes late, and fails to tackle other unsustainable biofuel feedstocks such as soy and rapeseed oil. 

What is needed to fix the biofuels rules?  

With the European Green Deal, the EU has increased its climate ambition and committed to become carbon neutral by 2050. This has triggered the reform of many energy & climate laws, including the RED. This review will take place in 2020 and presents an opportunity to improve the rules for biofuels, focusing on: 

  • The further limitation and phase-out of food and feed crop biofuels by 2030.
  • The earlier phase-out (in 2021) of high deforestation risk biofuels, including palm and soy and their by-products. 
  • The phase-out of vegetable oil biodiesel by 2025. 
  • Improvements in the sustainability framework for advanced biofuels to ensure that only true wastes and residues can be used for biofuels, on the basis of the sustainably supply levels taking into account the competing uses. 

What is at stake?

Continued support for food and feed biofuels will perpetuate the impacts linked to cropland expansion: deforestation, destruction of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, damages to soil and water quality, impacts on local communities, etc. 

When taking into account the deforestation impacts, the emissions associated with some crop biofuels are, according to the Globiom study, higher than the fossil fuels they are replacing. This means that the EU is supporting a fake solution to the climate crisis, making the cure worse than the disease. 

In the upcoming review, it is also essential that the list of advanced biofuels feedstocks only contains sustainable materials based on robust sustainability safeguards and impact assessment. More in our dedicated briefing here

Eventually, the EU fuels framework needs to be fit for the long-term decarbonisation of transport and the rapid shift to zero-emissions transport, through direct electrification and use of renewable hydrogen and synthetic fuels in sectors where direct electrification is not possible.

 

Palm oil biofuels are now considered as ‘high ILUC risk’

Food-based biofuels: cure worse than the disease

Food-based biofuels: cure worse than the disease