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European Commission adopts Delegated Act on biofuels sustainability criteria

On March 13, 2019, the European Commission (EC) adopted a Delegated Act on sustainability criteria for biofuels as requested by the European Parliament and the Member States. With the decision, Member States will still be able to use, and import, fuels included in the category of high ILUC-risk biofuels, but will not be able to include these volumes when calculating the extent to which they have fulfilled their renewable targets.

A filling pump with different diesel options, regular fossil diesel, HVO100 and rapeseed derived biodiesel.

Eligible biofuel volumes towards EU 2030 renewable energy targets? Depends as it is all about the feedstock, high or low ILUC risk, according to the Delegated Act on sustainability criteria for biofuels, adopted by the European Commission (EC) on March 13, 2019.

According to the Commission, the enhanced use of electricity produced from renewable sources, including in the transport sector, is crucial for the decarbonisation of the EU’s economy and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A new binding, EU-wide renewable energy directive (RED II) for 2030 with a target of at least 32 percent was agreed between the Member States and the European Parliament in June 2018.

Already in force, the RED II includes a review clause by 2023 for a possible upward revision of the EU level target. The RED II also includes a gradual reduction of the amount of certain types of biofuels for which a significant expansion of the production area into land with high-carbon stock is observed – so-called high Indirect Land-Use Change (ILUC) risk biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels, to be counted towards the renewable energy targets.

ILUC can occur when pasture or agricultural land previously destined for food and feed markets is diverted to biofuel production. In this case, food and feed demand still needs to be satisfied, which may lead to the extension of agriculture land into areas with high carbon stock such as forests, wetlands, and peatlands.

This, the Commission says, implies land use change by changing such high carbon stock areas into agricultural land as it may cause the release of GHG emissions by releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in trees and soil that negates emission savings from the use of biofuels instead of fossil fuels.

The Member States will still be able to use, and import, biofuels covered by these limits, but they will not be able to include these volumes when calculating the extent to which they have fulfilled their renewable targets. These limits consist of a freeze at Member States’ 2019 levels for the period 2021-2023, which will gradually decrease from the end of 2023 to zero by 2030.  The Directive also stipulates an exemption from these limits for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels certified as low ILUC-risk.

To implement this approach, as required by the Directive, the Commission has published a Delegated Act and its Annex that sets out the criteria both for determining high ILUC-risk feedstock and for certifying low ILUC-risk biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels. The Commission has also adopted an accompanying report on the status of production expansion of relevant food and feed crops worldwide, based on the best available scientific data.

Following the adoption by the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, have a two-month period scrutiny period and a right to express an objection, after which, if none are received, the text will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union. This two-month period can be extended by other two months if requested by any of them.

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