With the European Commission days away from releasing its policy proposal on so-called 2030 climate and energy targets, it’s worth taking stock of how this position will negatively impact the decarbonization of the transport sector and how once again this Commission is failing to recognize the role of sustainable biofuels, no matter their potential to reduce GHG emissions.

The Commission, the EU’s executive which initiates all policy proposals at the EU level, is expected to release its 2030 Climate and Energy Package on 22 January. The Package will include a Policy Communication on 2030, looking at 5-6 scenarios and accompanied by an impact assessment, 2) a Proposal on ETS structural reform (introducing the principle of flexible reserve mechanism), 3) a Proposal on shale gas (it still remains to be confirmed whether this proposal, prepared by DG Environment, will be part of the Package or issued separately later on), 4) a Communication on Industrial Policy prepared by DG Entreprise.

So, a full proposal on targets will not be put forward at this stage. The Commission is, in fact, only issuing a non-binding Communication that will effectively trial-balloon its proposal to see how it floats with Member States.

It appears, based on media reports, that the Communication will suggest a carbon  emissions reduction target of around 40% and will downgrade the target for the use of renewables to a non-binding target of perhaps 30% in 2030. It will not include any specific sub-target for the transport sector, despite the fact it is the sector that has experienced the fastest GHG emissions growth in recent years in Europe.

The reason seems to be that the Commission with the Communication only wants to trigger the debate and test the waters with the Head of States, ahead of their Summit in March before putting out a full proposal. Realistically, a proposal on targets cannot be expected earlier than 2015 and it seems fairly difficult to get all the 28 Member States to agree to common binding standards once again.

Yet, based on all the discussions and debate held in Brussels the past several months on this topic, biofuels will essentially be left out of the new 2030-targets. Therefore, even though the new mantra out of the Commission is all around advanced biofuels, the Commission somehow thinks advanced biofuel production will just happen — and happen at meaningful scale — without any kind of policy support that incentivize investors to risk their capital on new advanced biofuel technologies.

This is more proof of course about the lop-sided and unhealthy debate around biofuels, which has generally succeeded in painting all biofuels – even the most sustainable ones, like Brazilian sugarcane ethanol – with the same brush.

The EU currently has three climate change abatement targets: one for a 20% carbon emission reduction relative to a 1990 baseline, another for a 20% increase in energy efficiency, and one for a 20% share of renewable as a share of overall EU energy use, all by 2020. And, of course, within the 20% renewable target there is currently a 10% renewables-in-transport target, which will be met mostly by biofuels.

One can argue that the renewables-in-transport target is not only about biofuels, and electric vehicles should also contribute, but let’s be realistic: electric vehicles can be carbon intensive if they rely on coal and other fossil-fuel base load to be fueled. In addition, these vehicles are expected to account for only 2% of the passenger car fleet by 2030, according to a study carried out by E4Tech published in November 2013.

Biofuels are key in the decarbonisation of the EU transport sector – as pointed out by various recent reports.

Nevertheless, there will not be a legislative proposal on targets until 2015, and probably even when a proposal is there, it will not include any specific measures for the transport sector and biofuels will therefore be excluded.

This approach is at odds with all the efforts deployed by the Commission since October 2012 to tackle the indirect effects of biofuels. Why should we bother about the ILUC proposal if biofuels are not intended to be part of the post-2020 EU energy mix?

On top of all this, the Energy and Environment Committees in the Parliament just voted (clearly too late for this to be taken into consideration in the coming Package) on an own-initiative report asking the Commission to extend the existing strategy until 2030 with binding targets in the three areas above mentioned. This shows how much the Commission and Parliament positions are already far away one another before the formal process has even started.

How will the Commission really move forward to decarbonize transport when it’s leaving out the best option available?

How are sustainable biofuels, such as Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, which present high GHG emission savings and little to no environmental impact, to be invested in by industry at scale when there are no policy targets?

These are quite crucial questions for the future of the European climate policy to which the 2030 Package is not answering while the political scenario around the issue has never been more confused and confusing.

More to come…may be in 2015…

Géraldine Kutas

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.