EU policies on Renewable Energy
Renewable Energy Directive
In December 2008 EU leaders approved a new Renewable Energy Directive which requires 20% of total energy consumption in EU to come from renewable sources such as biomass, hydro, wind and solar power in 2020. This is translated into different targets for each Member State based on their existing levels of renewable energy and their gross domestic product (GDP). In relation to transport the legally binding target is set at 10% of the final energy consumption. This target must be met individually by each Member State who will decide on whether to achieve it through the use of biofuels or renewable electricity in cars and trains. Member States are free to decide their preferred 'mix' of renewables in order to take account of their different potentials, and shall adopt national plans to be defined along three sectors: electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. These will set the national targets for the share of energy chosen.
BirdLife strongly supports the 20% renewable energy target. We believe it is key to reduce carbon emission, thus help in the fight against global climate change. The controversy lies in the 10% mandatory target approved for biofuels in the transport sector.
Biofuels in the Renewable Energy Directive
The Renewable Energy Directive besides requiring a 20% renewable energy share in the total energy consumption, has raised the target from 5,75% on the past Biofuels Directive to a mandatory 10% of transport energy consumption to be delivered through ‘renewable sources’ by 2020. In practical terms, although it also includes electricity, this is targeted largely at biofuels replacing fossil fuel. The Directive further states that biofuels and bioliquids ( liquid fuels use in power stations) will have to meet certain “sustainability criteria” which includes GHG savings and identifies a number of no permitted areas for production. Nevertheless these criteria are full of loopholes. The EU target thus poses risks of further loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and will have a negative impact on the development of numerous communities, especially in developing countries.
This binding target of 10% biofuels (by energy content) will no doubt encourage large-scale industrial feedstock plantations, both within and outside EU, increasing as well the use of water and fertilisers in order to achieve profitable yield of biofuel crops per unit of land. Indeed it has been estimated that in order to achieve the target of 10% a range from 118 to 508 million hectares of new agricultural land will be required depending on the crop type and productivity level. The current area of arable land in the world is set at 1,400 million hectares. ( SCOPE 2009)
Why does BirdLife oppose to the 10% target for biofuels in the Renewable Energy Directive?
Furthermore, the current and past experience with the expansions of soya, palm oil, sugarcane and other such plantations in the developing world suggests that it will be accompanied by widespread environmental destruction, competition with food production and social injustice or violations of land use rights such as the forced eviction of native people and subsistence farmers off their land.
Isn’t the development and use of electricity in the transport sector also encouraged in the Directive?
Indeed the 10% target set at the Renewable Energy Directive refers not only to biofuels but to also other types of renewable energy as electricity. However there are several inconsistencies and uncertainties that results in a weaker support to this form of energy.
Member States are encouraged, though not obliged, to promote electric vehicles. Already countries like Denmark, France, Spain, UK, Sweden and Ireland have launched plans to increase their use of electric vehicles. The energy consumed in road and rail transport will count 2.5 times towards the target. However there are no provisions for how the amount of renewable energy used in non road/rail sectors should be calculated, whereas for the use for biofuels there are detailed provisions. Another large uncertainty is how electricity consumed in road vehicles shall be estimated as there is no method to measure electricity for vehicles separately from overall supply.
In addition when calculating the contribution from electricity produced by renewable sources and consumed in vehicles, Member States can choose either to base it on the EU average or on the share of their own country. This means that countries with a low share of renewable electricity could use the EU share regardless of their real figure.
Due to evident lack of clarity, the role renewable electricity will play will highly depend on the support policies given by individual Member States.
Fuel Quality Directive
The amendment of the Fuel Quality Directive sets specifications for petrol, diesel and gas-oil used in cars, trucks and other vehicles - in order to protect human health and the environment. Besides a series of requirements of permitted levels of pollutants in fuels, this amendment requires suppliers to reduce the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. production, transport and use) of the fuels used by 6% by 2020, with an additional 4% voluntary reduction.
In theory these requirements could be achieved through efficiency measures in the oil supply chain such as phasing out flaring and venting. However, since the majority of fossil fuel GHG emission comes from its use, this emission cut could largely be met by the suppliers by replacing fossil fuel with biofuels. This will dramatically increase the use of current biofuels and thus bring along the accompanying environmental and social risks.
EC (European Commission) (2006) Biofuels progress report. Report on the progress made in the use of biofuels and other renewable fuels in the Member States of the European Union. COM (2006) 845. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2006/com2006_0845en01.pdf
SCOPE (2009). Rapid assessment on biofuels and environment: overview and key findings. Pages 1-13 in R.W. Howarth and S.Bringezu (eds), Biofuels: Environmental Consequences and Interactions with Changing land Use.
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