Biofuels remain the main lever for real transport decarbonisation

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A final agreement was reached on March 30th between the European Parliament and Council on the Renewable Energy Directive’s revision. This agreement confirms the strategic importance of agricultural biomass in delivering the EU’s climate ambition alongside other renewables. It represents stability for crop-based biofuels, which are currently the main contributors to transport decarbonisation, together with a higher overall level of ambition. Unfortunately, these welcomed moves on up-ward climate objectives will be tempered by “paper-only decarbonisation” due to multipliers added by the co-legislator in favour of electro-mobility, which is the main weakness of the agreement. 

The EU renewable energy consumption target was raised to 42.5% by 2030 with an additional 2.5% “aspirational” non-binding ambition. A “supplement” that will not be reflected directly in States’ objectives and that will be discussed at a later stage in a technical trilogue. 

The transport sector in each Member State must reduce its GHG by 14.5% in 2030 or achieve a 29% renewable energy intensity.

RED3 also provides for 2030 a target of 5.5% combining green hydrogen and advanced biofuels consumed by the transport sector. 1% of this target must come from green hydrogen – or, more precisely, renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO), with some flexibilities for Member States with high low carbon electricity (nuclear) levels. Negotiations have long stalled on the issue of low-carbon hydrogen. 

The final deal confirms a certain level of flexibility for Member States on the Annex IX Part B 1.7% cap conditional to the Commission’s prior approval, which will be very important to avoid unsustainable development of Used Cooking Oil imports currently lacking traceability and controls. A Delegated Act could increase the cap if the Commission deems it necessary and finds there is enough available feedstock to do so, which will most probably be discussed in the context of the revision of Annex IX. 

Regarding the high iLUC definition, the European Parliament missed its ambition to include soy in the high iLUC definition alongside palm due to the fierce opposition from the European Commission based on WTO concerns. The EP did neither obtain a data revision every three years as foreseen earlier in the negotiation. Moreover, the European Commission will update the related Delegated Act “based on objective and scientific criteria, taking into consideration the Union’s climate targets and commitments, and proposing a new threshold where necessary based on the results of its review.” Further, the Commission should assess the possibility of designing an accelerated trajectory to phase out the contribution of such fuels to renewable energy targets so that the amount of greenhouse gas savings are maximised.”

The text maintains all the multipliers for electricity, aviation and maritime. Nevertheless, the fuel comparator, which further boosts “paper results” on the decarbonisation of e-mobility, might only be kept until 2030, and a new fuel comparator closer to actual fuel use in transport, still to be specified, should follow. 

Concerning the database, the EP amendment on public information on origin has been adopted in the text, which will be most welcome as soon as the European Commission sets up a practical database well integrated with national digital information tools. 

On wastes of non-feed or food origin, the GHG calculation remains as in RED2, i.e. their GHG emissions are considered at zero.

To conclude, the text maintains NUTS2 values. Annexes V and VI will be adapted accordingly considering that this option will remain as in RED2, complementary to actual values calculated at the farm level according to ESCA rules (Annex V).