European Parliament’s Environment Committee vote to phase-out biofuels use by 2030

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted on Monday to phase out support for biodiesel from vegetable oils in 2030 and terminate the use of palm oil biodiesel as early as 2021.

However, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) decided to exempt some food-based biofuels such as bioethanol and crops grown on marginal land from this phase-out. They also voted to increase the overall target for advanced fuels to 9% of fuels supplied in 2030.

MEPs rejected setting a new overall target for the transport sector, which in practice would have mandated the use of high-emitting, food-based biofuels through the back door. However, Transport & Environment, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to promote, at the EU and global level, a transport policy based on the principles of sustainable development, warned that the high level of the EU’s blending mandate for advanced biofuels is unsustainable, “because of the limited availability and competing demands for advanced biofuel feedstocks.”

”This vote puts the EU clean fuels policy on a cleaner track, but it still leaves the door open to some food-based biofuels in 2030. We urge the rest of the European Parliament to confirm this vote and reject a new overall target for the transport sector, which would mandate the use of high-emitting, food-based biofuels through the back door,” said Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager at Transport & Environment.

“The EU policy push for crop-based biodiesel has led to the creation of a growing market for vegetable oils. Between 2005 and 2015, total vegetable oil consumption in the EU decreased in the food sector (from 15.1 to 13.7 million tonnes), whereas it almost quadrupled in the bioenergy sector (going from 2.9 to 10.5 million tonnes),” she said. She added that more than half (53%) of feedstocks (vegetable oils mainly from rapeseed, palm and soy) used to produce crop biodiesel in EU installations in 2015 was imported.

The European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) countered that the decision for a total phase-out of crop-based biofuels by 2030 “takes a bad proposal from the European Commission and makes it even worse – threatening EU climate goals and discouraging investment in advanced renewables.”

“Even as they adopted a higher and binding renewables target, MEPs cannot agree about what to do with transport, a sector that accounts for a quarter of the EU’s total emissions. On the one hand, they have adopted a high ambition to decrease the carbon intensity of transport fuels; on the other hand, they are banning European crop-based biofuels a few years after promoting them,” said Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary general of ePURE.

Desplechin said that the European Parliament’s move contrasts with the latest draft proposal from the Council, which calls for more flexibility for the member states in meeting their targets for renewables in transport.

“The European Parliament ITRE Committee and Plenary must now realise that the constant changes in the EU’s policy on crop-based biofuels will discourage investment in advanced biofuels – thus defeating one of the goals of the Commission’s proposal,” Desplechin said.

“As the most recent Council text recognises, most EU member states see investment certainty for crop-based biofuels as a ‘sine qua non’ for adequate future investment. That is why they want to set a 15% target for renewable energy in transport and maintain the current 7% cap on crop-based biofuels,” Desplechin said.

Speaking on behalf of the eight associations representing the EU biofuel chain, Copa and Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen stated that, “The EU should create a policy framework which supports all sustainable forms of renewable energy and contributes to the reduction of fossil fuels’ use and protein feed imports. EU biofuels have proven to do all that.”

In a joint statement, the trade groups representing the EU biofuel chain said, “It is essential for the EU to recognise the role of the biofuels industry in the development of new technology biofuels: enabling long-term investments in them will require the involvement of the investors of crop-based biofuels.”

The European Parliament is currently reviewing a European Commission proposal to recast the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The industry committee vote on this file will be on 28 November 2017. A vote in plenary is expected for January 2018.