Transport decarbonisation targets will be revised if needed, EU official says

According to Navigant's report, all options are needed in combination to achieve overall GHG emission savings. [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Europe’s transport decarbonisation.

Although the new renewable energy directive (REDII) set compromise minimum targets helping to decarbonise the transport sector, the EU executive reserves the right to take action on the matter again if necessary, a Commission official has said.

On Wednesday (12 June), the Green Energy Platform led by the think tank Farm Europe organised a workshop in Brussels to present the results of the ‘2030 Transport Decarbonisation Options’ study, conducted by the consultancy firm Navigant.

The final versions of the Integrated National Climate and Energy Plans (NECPs) that the member states have to present to the Commission are expected in the next months under the Effort Sharing Regulations.

According to the report, the NECPs should also be regarded as a good chance to underline new policy initiatives and present different solutions to address the decarbonisation of transport, as REDII targets alone are not considered enough to reduce the fossil dominance in the transport sector.

“REDII is not very ambitious with respect to [decarbonisation] targets. And it’s no secret that the Commission’s original proposal was more ambitious also on biofuels,” said Bernd Kuepker at the Commission’s DG ENER.

On the other hand, he pointed out that the compromise reached in the REDII set a very robust framework, taking into account many methodologies and approaches to addressing different issues, such as the definition of the low or high risks of indirect land use change (iLUC risk factors).

“It might seem not huge but we set a minimum target and now member states can go beyond that in order to achieve other objectives,” Kuepker added.

Since the Commission was forced to lower its ambition during the interinstitutional negotiations, EURACTIV asked if it has also considered a sort of a back-up plan with the possibility of taking corrective actions in case the Commission experts realise that the EU would be failing on the broader goal of decarbonisation.

The EU official answered that some midterm reviews have been included in the text of the directive before 2023, as well as a general review.

“We will see. It’s just speculation, but I’m sure that, as the Commission has the right of initiative, it will act if it considers necessary to do so,” he said.

Carbon abatement costs

The study presented at the workshop was conducted in nine Central and Eastern European member states and represents an attempt to assess the carbon abatement cost of different technological solutions available to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge of reducing carbon emissions in road transport is essential for the long-term decarbonisation goals in 2050. “If transport does not achieve its target, other sectors will be asked for more,” said Carlo Hamelinck, associate director of Navigant.

According to Navigant’s report, all options are needed in combination to achieve overall GHG emission savings. In particular, electrification of mobility and biofuels are both considered essential in order to make the reduction in carbon emissions as cost-effective as possible.

For their modelling, the authors of the study used the estimates for commodity prices that have been provided by the nine member states for their NECPs development.

The study forecasts a fall in the carbon abatement cost by 2030 both for electric cars – from current €800/tonne CO2 equivalent to roughly €200/tonne – and for biofuels, from €200/tonne to €20/tonne.

“We assumed that the increase in biofuels must be low iLUC,” stressed Hamelinck.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also highlighted the need to push forward both electromobility and biofuels.

Speaking on the sidelines of the COP24 in Katowice in Poland, IPCC’s Dr Diana Urge-Vorsatz told that switching to electric cars is just one option and there are a number of others, such as biofuels, that should not be discarded.

“There is no doubt that we will have to consider all mobility-related options […] These do include electromobility, biofuels, shared mobility and several different mobility services in general,” she said.

Speaking at the same conference, Zoltán Szabó, a sustainability consultant in the bioenergy industry, said the EU was facing another lost decade in transport decarbonisation.

“Research shows that far-reaching deployment of both electrification and European sustainable biofuels are essential for member states to achieve their NECP targets in transport. There has been little discussion on the cost to governments, consumers and society of carbon abatement costs in transport,” he said.

He added that the European-produced ethanol has been proven to deliver GHG emission reductions at the lowest cost of all available options.

“The Effort Sharing Regulation allows member states the scope to formulate appropriate policies to increase the use of ethanol. CEE countries also have the potential for trading over-compliance from EU countries with good agricultural potential. NEPCs will need to be cost-effective if we are to respect sound economic management on climate change mitigation,” Szabó said.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said in a report that bioenergy is the “overlooked giant” in the renewable energy puzzle and projected that it will represent the largest source of growth in renewable consumption over the period 2018-2023.

“Ethanol is very important because it is part of the solution in terms of reducing the oil import dependence of many countries,” IEA’s executive director Fatih Birol recently told EURACTIV, adding that ethanol will help reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector as well as other sectors.

[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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