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12/07/2016
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Many questions and not enough answers

Are we not losing sight of the main objective: reduce GHG emissions from transport?

My feeling after having read and digested the new proposal on the Renewable Energy Directive is that by 2030 there will probably not be a massive change in how much we emit from our transportation activities.

These are my doubts:

Trajectory is not realistic – I doubt that the trajectory proposed for the phase out of conventional biofuels will be actually feasible. Don’t take me wrong, I am very much in favour of advanced biofuels – some of UNICA’s members produce them – and I think it is good to have a specific sub-target for fuel suppliers. But, my question is: will advanced biofuels be able to replace the conventional biofuels at the rhythm foreseen by the Commission? I don’t think so! Advanced biofuels production often relies on conventional biofuels existing investment, infrastructures, biomass. This basis will not be there, after years of legislative instability and yet another change proposed last week, the situation is already looking gloomy. As a biofuel producer I would probably not dare to invest again in the sector under such premises.

Risk of more fossil fuels – In fact, I see the risk of more use of fossil fuels when conventional biofuels cannot be replaced with advanced!!! Certainly, it will not be electricity to come to the rescue. Also here, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think electric vehicles are in competition with biofuels. At least not in the foreseeable future! The Commission did not even go for a big push for electrification of transport as its recent narrative suggested. As I see it, we will end up, in perhaps other 20 years, with hybrid cars which can run with electricity and biofuels. Nor will come to the rescue other alternative fuels. Member States showed already during the negotiations on the Alternative Fuels infrastructure deployment directive, that they do not want to be told how to promote alternative fuels. So, no mandatory targets and national plans were to be submitted to the Commission on 18 November this year. We will have to wait until the end of the year to see how much countries are committed on this front.

GHG emission reduction target – I am very much in favour of the blending mandate. I think it is the right approach which keeps the focus on the main goal of reducing emission. But what about leaving fuel suppliers free to simply choose the less emitting fuels to meet their 6.8% target? This would have finally recognised and given a role to bioethanol, which is conventional but actually reduces GHG emissions and has a low ILUC impact, as assessed by the Commission itself.  I think this would have been feasible from a scientific perspective, but unfortunately not so much on a political one, based on public misconceptions (see my blog on ‘Why science matters’ here).

Now, my question remains: how are we going to reduce emissions from transport in the next decade?

I look forward to the beginning of negotiations in the institutions and I will be happy to bring the positive example of Brazil, where sugarcane ethanol, one of the best performing conventional biofuels, is actually reducing transport emissions, improving the agricultural sector and creating the conditions for the next generation of biofuels to develop and become commercially viable.

Géraldine Kutas

A seasoned professional specializing in international trade policy, Géraldine Kutas leverages over a decade of experience to strengthen UNICA’s activities across the European Union, the United States and Asia. She has a deep expertise in biofuels and agricultural policies, coupled with extensive exposure to multilateral and regional trade negotiations in agriculture. Ms. Kutas is the author and co-author of several international publications on these topics. Before joining UNICA, she was a researcher and a professor at the Groupe d’Economie Mondiale at Sciences Po(GEM), Paris, and coordinator of the European Biofuels Policy research programme (EBP). Ms. Kutas has also worked as a consultant at the Inter-American Bank of Development and for agro-business firms. Ms. Kutas has a Ph.D. in International Economics from the Institut d’Etudes Poliques de Paris and a Master degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, Washington DC.