EU urged to correct transport decarbonisation ‘anomaly’ to reach climate targets

Decarbonising Europe’s transport, which is responsible for some 25% of the overall fossil GHG emissions, has been a long-standing headache for EU policymakers. [Shutterstock/ Olivier Le Moal]

The EU should scale up the use of sustainable renewable fuels in road transport and the different departments within the European Commission should join forces in legislation if Europe’s ambitions for a decarbonised economy are to become a reality by 2050, stakeholders have said.

Decarbonising Europe’s transport, which is responsible for some 25% of the overall fossil greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, has been a long-standing headache for EU policymakers.

Particularly road transport is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels (95%) and the EU executive admits that by 2030 things will not change dramatically.

Electric vehicles have emerged as a solution to speed things up. However, poor infrastructure and the high cost of electric vehicles give them more chances to develop only after 2030.

Until then, EU policymakers have to come up with realistic alternatives to replace fossil fuels in the existing and upcoming vehicles on the road.

On 17 September, the European Commission presented its 2030 Climate Target Plan, raising the EU’s ambition on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. The plan is considered as a transition period for the ultimate objective of a carbon-free Europe by 2050.

Critics suggest that with the current trend, the GHG reduction requirements for 2030 (and beyond) cannot be met without renewable fuels, especially when it comes to heavy-duty vehicles.

Several pieces of legislation have been put in place such as the revised Renewable energy Directive (RED II) and the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Both are expected to be revised as part of Europe’s new Green Deal.

The FQD requires a reduction in the carbon intensity of fuels by 6% by 2020 e.g. through blending with biofuels. Together with the RED II, it also regulates the sustainability of biofuels.

A way to introduce sustainable biofuels in the market is by gradually increasing the share of renewable fuels in the market gasoline and diesel fuels.

People nowadays fill up their cars at service stations with biofuels blended into fossil fuel (up to 10% for ethanol and up to 7% for biodiesel.

Sources have told EURACTIV that neither the current RED nor the FQD include a blending obligation for biofuels. Revised RED II does so, but this new Directive needs to be transposed into national legislation in the EU27 only by June 2021.

“The recast Renewable Energy Directive requires the member states to set out an obligation on fuel suppliers to supply renewables in the transport sector, including biofuels, but this new Directive needs to be transposed only by June 2021,” the sources said.

ART Fuels Forum, an industrial forum of demand and supply Industries in alternative and renewable transport fuels, says consistency is much needed in relevant policies.

In addition, dedicated engines and vehicles for high-blends and pure (100%) renewable fuels should be put in place. However, this requires incentivising them through FQD.

“Other DGs are responsible for each Directive/Regulation and this can result in a fragmented policy landscape,” the forum said.

“Particularly, to adequately reflect the combined CO2 reduction benefits from renewable fuels and energy-efficient engine and vehicle technology, a well-to-wheels approach should be applied,” the forum added. Well to wheels means assessment of the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifespan.

“This implies a need to coordinate and ‘co-optimize’ the legislations on fuels -namely, the FQD and REDII- and the vehicle CO2 legislations,” the forum emphasised.

Correcting the ‘anomaly’

Producers and importers of used cooking oil (UCO) and animal fats for biofuels (EWABA) say that in line with the EU Climate Target Plan, the transport sub-target in the REDII should also be revised upward.

Referring to the Commission’s plan which says, “bioenergy production should come from better use of biomass wastes and residues”, EWABA emphasised that waste-based feedstocks, such as cooking oil-UCO and animal fats, are placed at the core of the new system.

“We are extremely hopeful with the Commission’s intention to put forward revisions of the REDII and FQD in June 2021 because in accordance with the Climate Target Plan, the EU framework would need to be fine-tuned to terminate existing artificial limitations of sustainable biofuels,” EWABA told EURACTIV.

“In this context, the existing 1.7% soft limitation in the REDII should be eliminated as its rationale will be by then more flawed than ever before (in presence of revised, more stringent, certification schemes and a pan-EU track and trace database for all biofuels and bioliquids),” EWABA added.

Regarding the FQD, EWABA said it should allow for higher sustainable biodiesel blends beyond the current B7 limit.

“Any diesel vehicle refuelling on EU petrol stations is compatible with a B10 blend. B7 operates as some sort of ‘political standard’ while third countries in other continents moved ahead with higher blends like B10, B11, B12, B15, B20, B30 or even B50 and B100 – it’s high time this anomaly is corrected,” they said.

In October 2019, Farm Europe, a lobby group, published an opinion piece on EURACTIV saying that a certain amount of imported UCO in Europe is falsely declared as UCO biodiesel –  which is not genuine UCO but “more than likely comes from virgin palm oil”.

NGO Transport and Environment (T&E) also hinted in a report that it is suspicious to see large supplies of UCO coming from Malaysia (12%) and Indonesia (7%), the world’s two biggest palm oil producers, and from China (34%).

Referring to the Farm Europe op-ed, EWABA reacted strongly, saying that no established association defending the interests of EU farmers, oilseed and protein or crop-based biofuels “has echoed those vile attacks against UCO biodiesel”.

“UCO is one of the most highly regulated commodities in the world. Complete traceability exists from where it originates (restaurants, food processing facilities or household collection points) until the end of the value chain,” EWABA said.

“Like any industry in a period of significant growth, the UCO business has attracted wrongdoers. In May we learnt that a Dutch company not belonging to our association had been engaging in fraudulent behaviour. This regrettable event functioned as a catalyst mobilising the collective knowledge of the industry to curb the possibility of fraud to occur,” EWABA added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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