MEPs raise ambition on transport with ‘sustainable’ biofuels

MEPs are asking fuel pumps to provide more sustainable fuel from 2021. [Louis Concorde/Flickr]

Contrary to the European Commission’s initial proposal, the European Parliament voted on Tuesday (28 November) to increase targets for sustainable energy and reintroduce a sub-target for transport, by using “sustainable” biofuels.

MEPs in the industry, research and energy committee (ITRE) voted to increase targets on renewable energy from the Commission’s proposal of 27% to 35% by 2030, in a recast of the renewable energy directive.

Under the compromise reached by rapporteur Blanco-Lopez (S&D, Spain), member states will still not have to meet national binding renewable energy targets and will get a 10% ‘flexibility’ margin.

The Commission is supposed to step in if by 2025 EU countries are not on track to achieve the Union’s objective of 35%.

Christine Revault d’Allonnes-Bonnefoy, a socialist MEP who insisted on national binding targets in the transport committee vote, told “The issue of binding national targets was very divisive, it will be resolved in the text on the Governance of the Energy Union, which is probably the most appropriate text to do so. So it is not, as often, an entirely satisfactory result for us, but it is a good starting point.”

MEPs to vote on 'strict minimum' 35% renewables target

The European Parliament’s influential Committee on Industry, Research and Energy will vote on Tuesday (28 November) on a compromise deal that could set the bloc’s 2030 renewable energy target at 35%.

Boost to renewables in transport

MEPs also reintroduced a nationally binding sub-target for the share of renewable energy in the transport sector – equivalent to 12% by 2030. Currently at 10%, the Commission had dropped this target in its recast proposal due to public opposition to deforestation driven by crop-based biofuels.

MEPs in the ITRE committee plan to achieve this target via biofuels and biogas that are compliant with the Commission’s rules on greenhouse-gas emission savings.

This excludes oil-based biodiesel, but includes crop-based bioethanol: “The threshold is 50% [of GHG savings compared to fossil fuels] and we do on average 66%, so even if indirect emissions are to be included, we would still be well above 50%,” said Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary-general of ePure, representing bioethanol industries in Brussels.

MEPs also upped the so-called “blending obligation” for fuel suppliers to include 10% of advanced biofuels (waste-based as opposed to crop-based) in their petrol pumps by 2030 (the Commission proposed 6.8%).

But this clashes with the position adopted by the ENVI committee in October. The report by Green MEP Bas Eickhout scrapped the sub-target for renewable energy in transport and called for a phase-out of crop-based biofuels by 2030.

The two positions now need to be reconciled ahead of the vote in the plenary.

“It is possible to reconcile a higher blending obligation for advanced fuels in transport and a phase-out of crop-based biofuels that do not obtain sufficient greenhouse gas savings. With the right incentives in place, sustainable advanced fuels and electricity can deliver the energy transition in transport,” Eickhout told EURACTIV.

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More of the same?

However, he added that an overall target for renewable energies in transport as introduced by the ITRE committee is not the way forward since it would push for crop-based biofuels that compete with food production and do not deliver on emission savings.

Likewise, environmental NGOs are afraid that a high target for renewable energy in transport combined with a weak sustainability framework will drive consumption of crop-based biofuels because they are the cheaper option.

“If you mix everything in a single target, it is not the most sustainable or advanced who get the bigger share, but the cheapest ones,” said Laura Buffet, a policy officer at Transport & Environment.

Alex Mason of WWF criticised the Commission’s GHG savings rule, which don’t include emissions from indirect land use change caused by biofuels but only from processing and transport, and which he fears could drive increased use of wood for energy.

There is an elephant in the room when it comes to bioenergy, and it’s got wooden legs. If you don’t have any sustainability criteria, the simplest thing to do is to cut down trees and burn it,” he said.

The Renewable Energy Directive will be discussed by member states on 18 December, when ministers are expected to reach their position. It will then go to a plenary vote on 15-18 January  2018, and then trilogue negotiations will begin.

MEPs vote for stronger EU efficiency and renewable energy targets

MEPs voted on Tuesday (28 November) in favour of increasing efficiency and renewable energy targets, in a decisive morning for EU energy and climate policy that provoked both jubilation and disappointment.


Alex Mason, Senior Policy Officer, Renewable Energy, WWF European Policy Office, said: “MEPs have gone with a toothless proposal. A 35% EU target for renewable energy is better than the European Commission’s proposal of 27% - but not by much. And with a 10% ‘flexibility’ margin it could end up being only 31.5%. This sends a message to investors that the EU is scaling back on renewable energy.

“In heat, and transport, MEPs have voted for new, higher renewables targets. Which would be great, but with no meaningful rules on bioenergy they’re likely to be met by burning unsustainable and polluting biomass - a recipe for disaster.”

Matt Williams, Policy Officer, 
BirdLife Europe & Central Asia said: “This is a very disappointing outcome. The new renewable transport and heating targets that MEPs have voted for today could drive the use of more unsustainable woody biomass and more unsustainable crop-based biofuels. Both of which could have significant negative consequences for the climate and biodiversity. We know, for example, that the use of crop-based biofuels in transport has caused emissions to increase, instead of reducing them. These harmful sources of biomass have already contributed significantly to transport fuels and renewable heating among Member States, and new targets are only likely to further incentivise their deployment. There are still more steps in the process before the Renewable Energy Directive is finalised, but this vote by MEPs is a worrying signal about where the Parliament stands on this issue. We hope that in the final version of the Renewable Energy Directive neither target will be included.”

Emmanuel Desplechin, Secretary General of ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association, said: “The push by MEPs to reinstate a 2030 renewables in transport target increased at 12%, together with the endorsement of an advanced biofuels sub-target, are a step in the right direction. But at the same time they would not allow Member States to use all sustainable renewable fuels like EU ethanol in their energy mix. As part of a complex architecture setting another 10% obligation for fuel suppliers to blend in low-emission fuels, MEPs voted to prevent Member States from using crop-based ethanol – which delivers 66% average greenhouse-gas reduction compared to fossil petrol. In doing so they reduced its contribution even further than what the Commission initially proposed, putting into question the achievability of the objectives without artificial multipliers.

It will now be up to the Plenary of the European Parliament and Member States to fix this. In their plenary vote in January, MEPs need to move the Parliament’s position closer to what Council has spelled out coherently in its proposed position. Instead of throwing out existing solutions that work, build on them by leaving in place the 7% cap on crop-based biofuels and promoting advanced biofuels as part of an overall renewables in transport target. It is only by embracing all of these sustainable solutions, and by combining low-carbon fuels like ethanol with renewable electricity, that the EU will have any chance of meeting its climate goals for transport.”

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