Transport is Europe’s biggest climate enemy and the only sector still accelerating its fossil emissions output quicker than climate change programmes can catch up.
In a measure that obscures and misleads real progress in reducing fossil dependency, Europe’s proposed climate and energy legislation allows for ‘double counting’ of renewable energy used in transport, creating the illusion that the EU is moving towards fulfilling its commitments in transport, and making some in Brussels feel good, when all the while fossil emissions are steadily rising.
Double – or multiple – counting is a simple accounting trick whereby EU and member state bureaucrats count renewable energy twice (or even 5 times) when measuring progress against our climate action goals, enabling them wiggle out of the genuine climate action expected by our citizens.
So let’s say there is political agreement to replace 20 billion litres of fossil oil with clean renewable energy by a certain date, then all they have to do is achieve half this or less and – hey presto – the Brussels double counting multiplier allows them declare the job done. It is a ‘fake’ solution to a complex problem.
The other half, the half that wasn’t achieved by renewables in the real world, comes from business-as-usual oil, coal and gas. Double counting allows black gold gatecrash climate programmes, by pretending it is renewable.
A mechanism that was supposed to be used in small measures to encourage novel energy sources has become the norm. It is difficult to believe that energy ministers of EU member states can have properly understood or sanctioned the practice.
If your jaw is hanging in disbelief then you have understood correctly.
The European Council’s proposed text for the Renewable Energy Directive bringing us from 2020 to 2030 starts out with a seemingly ambitious target of 14% for renewable energy in transport, up from 10% in 2020.
But considering that 7% of this is purely optional while the other 7% is double counted, the real ambition shrinks to just 3.5%. That’s considerably less than there is today. Assuming transport demand rises in line with economic growth the sector will have grown twenty or thirty percent while the renewable energy portion will have shrunk from 2018 levels.
In net terms, real-world use of fossil energy in transport in the EU, and real-world emissions of climate-harming CO2 will have grown a whopping 25% by 2030.
And exactly what kinds of energy are they that are being paired with oil in this double counting dance, in the Council’s proposed legislation? They are a hotch-potch of shady characters allowed into a privileged club with next to no controls regarding their real origins or real sustainability.
For instance, there is fuel made from imported used cooking oil which is not a waste in its country of origin and which may actually be virgin oil doctored to make it qualify. There is fuel made from molasses from the sugar industry and which is not a waste by any measure whatsoever, but rather closer to human food than anything else used in biofuels.
There is fuel made from tall oil – the sap of pine trees – which is in high demand in the biobased chemical sector and which is only available in limited quantities. There is energy made from straw harvested on farms which – as anyone who has ever been on a farm knows – is valued as bedding, feed and soil conditioner, and clearly not free of direct or indirect knock-on effects if used instead for energy. And there is energy coming from the exhaust gases of metal smelters.
There’s even a proposal to count electric cars five times. So when you see a smooth and silent electric vehicle on your street you can legally delude yourself that the four diesel engines coming along behind it are electric too.
What’s missing is the number one solution that is proven to achieve all the aims of RED II in the 2030 timeframe and that is biofuel such as ethanol made from safe, effective and sustainably sourced EU farmed crops.
Some of the double-counted energy types may be good guys, but they all should have their credentials carefully checked at the entrance, and they shouldn’t be allowed to bring their fossil friends.
Anyone imagining a 2030 utopia of clean air and green mobility powered by sustainable farm friendly biofuels plus wind and solar sourced electricity should think again. Brussels has no such thing in mind.
Europe has around 6% renewable energy in transport today. The Council’s text makes it look like the aim is 14%, but in reality, it’ll happily accept 4%, in a quickly growing fossil powered fleet. A decline of 2% renewables is being spun into a gain of 8%.
There will be fifty million or more additional diesel and petrol burning engines clogging the roads by 2030 and what little renewable energy there is in them may likely be no better than the tiny amount of fossil oil it displaces, while being matched – joule for double-counted joule – with fossil energy. Tell that to the polar bears.
To give them their due both the Commission and Parliament have proposed dropping double counting despite the discomfort it will bring to member state climate change departments, oil companies and double counted energy suppliers.
They should not allow themselves be pressured by the Council into reneging on climate progress, and they should be greatly upping the ambition overall.
The EU’s trilogue process for reaching a final version of the renewables directive is still underway so there is time for the Bulgarian Presidency or – as things drag out – the Austrians, to change it.
A more logical solution might simply be to consign the whole convoluted process to the bin and to put together a science-based, economically sound, robust and workable solution to providing the EU with the cleaner energy mix for transport that it needs.