Biofuels to increase European transport emissions by 4%

26th April 2016

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More than 75% of biofuels are forecast to have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) similar or higher than fossil-fuel based petrol or diesel, according to analysis of the European Commission's own data.

Under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), member states must source at least 10% of their transport fuel from biofuels by 2020. Campaigners have criticised this target, complaining that biofuels, many of which were sourced from food-based crops such as rapeseed and soy, increase GHGs as rainforest and other virgin land is replaced by farms. They also claim that crops grown for biofuel lead to higher food prices and damages biodiversity.

In March, the commission published research by consultants at Ecofys, IIASA and E4tech on emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC).

The report of the findings was completed in 2015, but not published until after the closure of the commission’s consultation on a new renewable energy directive for 2030, leading to further complaints from campaigners.

Environmental campaign group Transport and Environment (T&E) has carried out its own analysis of the data in the commission’s report. It claims that the commission’s report only calculates ILUC from additional demand for biofuels in Europe and does not assess the overall impact of biofuels is compared with fossil fuels.

Although the commission’s study found that palm, rapeseed and soy-based biodiesel have land-use change emissions that exceed the full lifecycle emissions of fossil diesel, T&E’s analysis revealed an even worse picture. By adding other emissions from growing biofuels, such as those from tractors and fertilisers, the campaign group found that biodiesel from virgin vegetable oil leads to an average of around 80% higher emissions than the fossil diesel it replaces, with soy and palm-based biodiesel two and three times worse respectively. This takes into account policy reform made last year to cap the proportion of biofuel produced from food crops at 7%, it said.

The campaign group found that more than three-quarters of biodiesel and bioethanol products emit similar or higher GHGs than the fossil fuels they are replacing. As well as not reducing emissions, using fuels from these sources would actually increase them by almost 4%, equivalent to putting a further 12 million cars on Europe’s roads in 2020, it concluded.

Reform introduced by the commission last year, which capped food-based biofuel at 7%, did not include ILUC in the carbon accounting of biofuels under the RED and Fuel Quality Directive. As a result, harmful biofuels still count towards EU targets and earn public subsidies.

T&E said that the commission should ban use of food-based biofuels after 2020 in its review of the RED and sustainability criteria for bioenergy, which is currently underway.

Jos Dings, executive director of T&E, said that the policy failure in stimulating food-based biofuels had been ‘even more spectacular’ than previously thought. ‘If we do not end incentives for bad biofuels, the better ones will not stand a chance,’ he added.


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