Oil will still drive Europe’s cars by 2030, data show

A source close to the issue told EURACTIV.com that the transport sector is indeed characterised by high dependency on oil today but also in 2030 reflecting that transport is the sector more difficult to decarbonise. [Shutterstock/Ody_Stocker]

Europe has been trying for a long time to decarbonise its transport sector. However, official data shows that despite a number of EU legislative actions, road transport dependency on oil will remain high by 2030, raising doubts over the effectiveness of the measures taken so far.

The European Commission presented last month its 2030 climate ambition and transport, which is responsible for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, will still heavily rely on oil.

The Impact Assessment behind “Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition” indicates that in all modelled policy scenarios, even in the most optimistic scenario of electromobility, the dependency on oil clearly prevails.

The Impact Assessment behind Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition (2)

The revised Renewables Energy Directive (RED II) has set a target of having a 14% share of renewables in transport. Conventional biofuels, such as bioethanol or biodiesel, were capped at 7% by 2030, while 3.5% should be reserved for so-called advanced biofuels.

In general, electromobility has been prioritised but in light of high costs and the lack of proper infrastructure, it remains wishful thinking for now.

Following a reality check, EU policy makers have decided to revise the legislation later this year.

A source close to the issue told EURACTIV that the transport sector is indeed characterised by high dependency on oil today, but also in 2030, confirming that transport is a difficult sector to decarbonise.

“The situation today and these projections for 2030 do not mean that RED II is not an effective and important piece of legislation, as in the absence of this policy, the situation would be worse. It only shows that decarbonisation of transport is challenging,” the source said.

“Today, biofuels, biogas and biomethane account for only 3.5% of all gases and fuels consumption and are largely based on food and feed crops. By 2030, their share (and that of other alternative fuels) would need to increase together with improvements in energy efficiency,” the source explained.

But the potential to abate emissions from energy use in transport by 2030 is smaller than in other sectors, like buildings, the source added.

According to the source, the impact assessment shows that we need to ensure that advanced solutions (notable uptake of renewable hydrogen and other renewable and low carbon fuels) are demonstrated at scale during this decade in order to deliver the reductions needed to achieve carbon neutrality.

“After 2030, the uptake of new fuels, including hydrogen, e-gas and e-liquids, would lead to decarbonisation of transport in line with European Green Deal objectives […] Importantly, biofuels and other renewable fuels will have an important role to play in the decarbonisation of transport, notably in hard-to-decarbonise modes, such as aviation or maritime,” the source said.

The European Commission insists that electromobility is key in road and rail transport, while new mobility services will increase the efficiency of transport. Other transport modes will have to rely more on advanced biofuels and e-fuels.

MEP: Move away from fossil fuels

For Seán Kelly, an Irish MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), there is an urgent need to move away from the use of fossil oil as quickly as possible.

“Oil is the major contributor to our transport emissions, and reducing consumption needs to be a key element of our push for carbon neutrality by 2050,” he told EURACTIV.

Two years on from the REDII agreement, he said, it is fair to say that ambition on transport could be higher.

“This was a difficult part of the negotiations, and member states were very reluctant to move upwards, perhaps understandably given the years of uncertainty that the biofuels sector had endured.”

Referring to the RED II revision, Kelly said Europe still needs to find a way to phase out fossil oil, pushing forward both electric vehicles and sustainable advanced biofuels.

In the European Parliament, lawmakers are pushing to prevent fossil fuels from getting any EU-related funding post-COVID.

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted on 12 October to exclude fossil fuels from support under the EU’s €750 billion recovery fund, intended to boost the bloc’s economy in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

French MEP Pascal Canfin vowed to “fight for this position to have a majority” in the Parliament. There can be “no fossil fuels financing as we invest for the future and not in the past”.

Reducing oil is the real discussion

Zoltán Szabó, sustainability consultant for Ethanol Europe, said the only thing stakeholders do not really talk about is how oil is to be replaced.

“A reality check in the Green Deal needs to focus on the amount of oil used each year in the EU transport sector,” he said and stressed that the Commission’s latest predictions clearly show that oil will account for about 85% of the energy used in road transport in 2030

“It is obvious that the EU policies adopted thus far will not deliver transport decarbonisation. These policies include ambitious aims of electrification of transport, emission standards of cars, a mandate for advanced biofuels and a cap on conventional biofuels.

“It is clear, however, that without effective policies to ensure that oil is actually reduced, the EU will not deliver on its climate promise,” he emphasised.

Asked to comment on this argument, a source said: “There are already many measures in place that reduce oil consumption e.g. by taxing the consumption of energy products and promoting renewable energy, electrification and energy efficiency.”

Elmar Baumann, the managing director of the Association of the German Biofuels Industry, said he saw little added value in RED II.

“It is incomprehensible that the EU legislation is prescribing ever-higher GHG reduction targets while at the same time it is not able to reduce the burning of fossil fuels effectively,” he said.

Baumann backed the idea of supporting all available options to lower emissions by replacing fossil fuels: “It is clear that electromobility, electricity-based fuels (PtX) and biofuels all must be deployed together to reduce fossil energy use and by this GHG emissions in transport.”

“It is clear that in order to reach very little or zero emissions, in the long run, mobility has to be organised by using as little oil as possible. A decreasing limit for fossil fuels is a daring, but logical instrument.”

EURACTIV also contacted Fuels Europe, the European oil refining industry association, who said the shift from fossil-based fuels to non-fossil based fuels cannot be achieved overnight and will depend on the political vision and engagement of the EU.

“Such transformation requires significant investments and an enabling policy framework which includes the reform or simplification of regulations such as the RED or FQD, and the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive or CO2 in vehicles,” Fuels Europe said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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