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EU Environment MEP's vote on RED II – mixed reactions on upgraded proposal

The share of energy from renewable sources, such as solar or wind, should be at least 35 percent of the Union’s gross final consumption of energy by 2030, Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) MEP's said on October 23. The approved legislative text is part of the ongoing reform of the Renewables Energy Directive (RED II), a central piece of the EU energy and climate change policy, which had already set a 20 percent target for 2020 in 2009.

The rapid growth of biofuels in Sweden in recent years is mainly attributed to the increased use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) diesel, a renewable diesel made from different bio-based raw materials. Sweden has also an extensive use of rapeseed-derived biodiesel (RME).

End of food-based, first-generation biofuels such as rapeseed derived RME and use of palm oil in advanced biofuels like HVO?

The European Commission (EC) proposed to prolong the scheme until 2030, raising the target to at least 27 percent, albeit as an EU-wide target. MEPs propose to reintroduce mandatory national targets to reach an EU 35 percent goal.

Phase-out use of palm oil in biofuels by 2021

The draft legislation states that the share of biofuels in this effort should be no more than 7 percent of final consumption of energy in road and rail transport. MEPs propose to phase-out food-based, first-generation biofuels “responsible for driving deforestation” by 2030, and already from 2021 for those made from palm oil while encouraging the development of cleaner biofuels.

MEPs decided to exempt some food-based biofuels such as bioethanol and crops grown on marginal land from this phase-out and backed the Commission proposal that no food-based biofuels should be subject to minimum targets at EU level.

I am delighted that the Parliament is demanding an end to the use of palm oil as a biofuel. Not all biofuels have the same environmental impact and EU policy needs to make a better distinction between the good and the bad. We have to prevent food and feed crop biofuels end up displacing food production and have a negative climate impact sometimes even exceeding fossil fuel emissions, said lead MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL).

MEPs also set sustainability criteria for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass in order to minimise the risk of using unsustainable forest biomass claimed as “renewable energy” thereby benefitting from support schemes.

MEP’s divided – ePURE

The report was adopted by 32 votes to 29, with 4 abstentions. The Committee on Industry (ITRE), which has the lead competence on this file, with the exception of the articles dealing with biofuels and sustainability criteria that are the remit of ENVI, will vote on November 28.

Representing one group of so-called “food-based, first-generation biofuels” producers, Emmanuel Desplechin, Secretary-General of the European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) highlighted the divergent opinion within the European Parliament.

The vote shows a very divided European Parliament. 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 Desplechin.

Conventional biofuels that use feed-grade grains like maize also produce co-products used in the food and feed industries.

Conventional biofuels that use feed-grade grains like maize also produce co-products used in the food and feed industries.

In addition, Desplechin pointed out that the inconsistencies within adopted opinion defeat the purpose.

While ENVI MEPs have tried to differentiate among biofuels and reward those like European ethanol with high GHG savings and low risk of adverse impacts, the agreement falls short of setting a blending obligation for these sustainable low-carbon biofuels. 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. 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, Desplechin said.

Biomass sustainability serious and pragmatic – AEBIOM

Representing bioenergy interests, Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary-General of the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) noted a serious and pragmatic approach to sustainability for solid biomass.

In the final adoption of its opinion, the ENVI Committee has decided tonight to address the sustainability issue both seriously and pragmatically, allowing solid bioenergy to continue playing its essential role in the European energy transition. While this vote acknowledges the positive work and contribution of thousands of local bioenergy players, it also calls into question the systematic bioenergy bashing that occurred surrounding this debate. We are now counting on the entire Parliament and Member States to follow the approach taken by the Commission, and endorsed by the ENVI Committee, to support bioenergy in its role in achieving the EU’s climate and energy goals, said Jean-Marc Jossart.

Misses the big picture – CEPI

Sylvain Lhôte, Director General of the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) commented that ENVI has understood the importance of better aligning the text with Circular Economy principles, energy efficiency standards and sustainable forest management practices but that it nonetheless “seriously jeopardises” Europe’s bioeconomy by encouraging the “mass conversion to biomass” by low-efficiency coal power plants.

Despite significant technical improvements the ENVI committee vote misses the big picture and may cause an unsustainable dash for biomass. The European bioeconomy deserves much better than turning wood into megawatts. We remain however confident that the text can be rebalanced at plenary, said Lhôte.

Freshly harvested forest fibre (spruce pulpwood) awaiting collection to begin its transformation process into pulp, paper, biochemical and biofuel products.

Could make Paris objectives unachievable – BirdLife Europe

According to BirdLife Europe & Central Asia, one of six regional secretariats that comprise BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, the vote in the Parliament confirms the EU’s commitment to phasing out “damaging” biofuels in transport but completely fails to secure “climate-friendly” use of biomass in heating and electricity

Parliament’s vote today (October 23) strengthens the EU’s commitment to phase out EU’s food and feed-based biofuels with negative climate impact but introduces no new renewable energy targets which would encourage such biofuels. The energy and industry committee of the Parliament now needs to follow this lead when finalizing the Parliament’s position and see beyond the short-term economic interests of subsidies dependent biofuel industries, said Sini Eräjää, EU bioenergy policy officer, BirdLife Europe.

The NGO also welcomes that Parliament calls for a more ambitious overall share of renewable energy and new environmental safeguards for the planning of environmentally sound energy transition but says that it failed to put an end to “growing exploitation” of forests for energy, weakening the Commission’s “weak proposal” for sustainability requirements on forest biomass.

The outcome of the vote today allows increased exploitation of forests and logging of sensitive habitats just to burn the wood for energy. Another 10 years of mindless support for burning forests would make the Paris objectives unachievable and drive massive loss of biodiversity and land conflicts, said Eräjää.

Vegetable oil biodiesel phase-out welcomed – T&E

In a statement, Brussels-based NGO European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) welcomed the decision to stop food-based biodiesel but warns that the proposed blending mandate for advanced biofuels is “too high to be sustainable”.

We welcome the Parliament decision to stop the use of high-emitting biodiesel from palm oil, rapeseed and soy in European cars. This is good news for the climate, the world’s rainforests and people around the world living out of their land.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 T&E.

Background

On 30 November 2016, the European Commission launched a legislative package entitled ‘Clean energy for all Europeans’. This includes a recast of the existing Directive on the promotion of renewable energy sources (‘RES Directive’) to help meet the goals of the 2030 EU Climate and Energy Framework, in particular, the binding target of a 27 percent EU share of RES in final energy consumption by 2030. The recast directive would be aligned to related legislation on governance of the energy union and electricity market design, also proposed as part of the clean energy package.

The recast RES directive provides guiding principles on future financial support schemes for RES, renewable energy self-consumption, renewable energy communities, and district heating and cooling systems. The directive enhances mechanisms for cross-border cooperation, simplifies administrative processes, strengthens the sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions savings criteria for biofuels, and outlines measures to mainstream the use of RES in the transport and heating and cooling sector.

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