The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive II (RED II) as part of the new Green Deal should recalibrate the legislative initiatives which have so far failed to decarbonise Europe’s transport sector, stakeholders have said.
Transport is responsible for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and several pieces of legislation have failed to bring about major changes. The EU executive has already admitted that by 2030, oil will still drive Europe’s cars.
Zoltán Szabó, a sustainability consultant for Ethanol Europe, shared with EURACTIV a chart based on data of the latest Impact Assessment prepared for the “Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition” document.
“The data shows that oil will not be displaced in any meaningful quantities before 2030. EU transport decarbonisation policies between 2020 and 2030 will achieve precious little – only about an 3% decrease in oil consumption, a tiny bit better than business as usual. It seems like another lost decade we are facing. EU member states are left alone to make climate progress on their own,” Szabó said.
The Hungarian analyst explained that the EU policymakers are losing sight of the big picture as they focus on marginal elements in transport.
“Oil will need to be displaced in the existing fleet until 2030. This is the big picture. A reality check every two years may ensure that oil consumption is reduced, and not just by a paltry 3%. Oil will be replaced by all sustainable renewables such as renewable electricity, crop ethanol or advanced biofuels,” he said.
In the old legislation, the Commission pushed for electromobility and so-called advanced biofuels.
Although promising, both electric cars and advanced biofuels will need time to scale up in terms of affordability and, in the meantime, cost-effective solutions need to be found.
The European Association for Electromobility (AVERE) says that in order to reach the EU carbon neutrality goal by 2050, electric vehicles need to be favoured instead of internal combustion engines.
“Given new cars and vans in the EU stay on the road for about 15 years on average, new vehicles will have to be zero-emissions well before 2050. We, therefore, urge the EU to set a phase-out date for new ICE vehicles by 2030,” AVERE said in an emailed response to EURACTIV.
The association added that in order to fully take advantage of the decarbonisation potential of electromobility, the revision of RED II should significantly raise the ambition for the share of renewable energies in the transport sector.
“We need to ensure that the rapidly growing share of zero-emission vehicles on European roads is powered by clean energy,” said AVERE.
Sandra Roling, Head of Transport at the Climate Group, also backed an ICE phase-out date no later than 2035. She said within the EV100 initiative alone, millions of vehicles in European corporate fleets are committed to be electric by the end of this decade.
“We’re also seeing automakers pivoting rapidly towards zero emission vehicles – Ford’s recent commitment to be all-electric in Europe by 2030 and Volkswagen’s investment plans for battery plants, for example,” she said.
MEP Sean Kelly said considering oil’s current dominance, Europe needs to be realistic in its ambitions.
“The response to the sector will have to be varied and it will include electrification, sourced from renewables, as well as low carbon fuels such as bioethanol as well as hydrogen in some cases. Biofuels will have a strong role to play in particular in the maritime and aviation sectors,” he said.
The centre-right Irish MEP told EURACTIV that Europe should also look at the incentives in place for companies to produce biofuels, under the principles of the circular economy, to ensure that we utilise our resources as efficiency as possible in the low-carbon economic transition.
“There should not be a case where high-quality biofuels are unable to qualify because they could technically be used for low quality animal feed, which may not be financially viable due to low return of investment costs. This is something which could have positive implications for many rural areas as new sources of revenue would be created.”
‘Multipliers’ and ‘real renewables’
The European renewable ethanol association ePURE says artificial multipliers in RED II are counterproductive to climate change mitigation.
Multipliers primarily apply to electric cars. A multiplier of five means that for every two electric cars, ten will be counted in the final analysis.
ePURE’s Emmanuel Desplechin said since the RED was enacted in 2009, EU fossil fuel dependence in transport has decreased by just 2.2% with most of the increase in renewables coming from virtual quantities created by multipliers.
“Member states can get around their obligation to incorporate renewable fuels by lowering the contribution of crop-based biofuels and counting on such multipliers to artificially inflate their RES-T achievements without really reducing GHG emissions. These multipliers should be eliminated in favour of real renewables,” he said.
Desplechin called on EU policymakers to stop dismissing crop-based biofuels, which he described as “the nearly sole contributor to renewable energy incorporation in transport and the third-largest renewable energy job creator in the EU”.
In RED II, the Commission decided to cap first-generation biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel due to indirect land use change (iLUC) concerns. EPure said this no longer applies to European biofuels since the delegated act on high ILUC risk-biofuels separated the good from the bad.
“There’s no longer any reason to hinder greater renewable energy incorporation in transport by penalising some high environmentally performing biofuels such as European renewable ethanol,” he said.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]