Europe and Central Asia

Bioenergy Policies of the EU

Current Policies

Currently, EU bioenergy policy can be found under the climate and energy package. This package consists of several pieces of legislation, each of them forming a piece of the puzzle to tackle climate change.

The goal is that by 2020 the European Union will:

  • save 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to 1990
  • cover 20% of its energy consumption from renewable energy sources
  • improve energy efficiency by 20% (this is a non-binding goal)


The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive (FQD)

The RED is one of the most stringent parts of the package. It sets two targets that Member States need to attain by 2020.
The first target states that 20% of the overall EU energy consumption by 2020 needs to come from renewables. In this case we are mainly talking about electricity, heating and cooling.

The second target is that 10% of the overall EU energy consumption in transport  needs to come from renewables by 2020. This mainly refers to transport fuels, but it can also be reached through electricity, etc.
The RED basically asks Member States to set up a system, which they need to describe in their National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs), to attain these numbers, which often happens through subsidies, tax exemptions and consumption mandates.

The Member State Action Plans have now shown that biomass will supply more than half of the EU’s renewable energy by 2020 and more than 8.3% (hence almost the entire 10%) of the transport target. This will mean a steep rise in the use of biomass for energy and that growth comes with a risk of serious socio-environmental costs.

The demand is also likely to exceed the sustainable level of biomass supply. Moreover, this policy is paid for by the European taxpayers. For the transport policy alone this means 6 billion EUR in subsidies for mainly unsustainable biofuels.

The RED has sustainability criteria for raw materials going into biofuels and bioliquids. All other uses of biomass have no sustainability requirements at all. Moreover, the criteria for biofuels is not stringent enough or has not yet been fully implemented. The current sustainability criteria also does not secure GHG savings, since it doesn’t recognise the emissions caused by Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). The way ILUC is being dealt with is by putting a general cap of 7% on first generation (so called food-based) biofuels, which would mean a drop in expected biofuels from 8.6 to 7% by 2020. The indirect emissions, however, are just reported on and not accounted for.

Another part of the package is the FQD. This directive tackles the issue of clean and dirty fuels. By 2020, fuel suppliers need to show that they are mixing cleaner fuels in their fuel mix so that they are decarbonising their fuels with 6%.

This directive aims to tackle both dirty fossil fuels and the mixing in of biofuels that are saving emissions. The FQD does not just set blunt consumption mandates, but allows different types of fuels to compete not only on production costs but also on their GHG savings.

Attempts to deal with sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids

The sustainability criteria around biofuels and bioliquids stimulated via the RED and the FQD are limited. On the environmental side, they focus on GHG savings or no-go areas, with sustainability criteria for waste and residues virtually absent. On the social side, there are no sustainability criteria. Regarding ILUC, the approach is partially there: on the one hand the ILUC emissions just have to be reported on, but on the other hand, they try to limit the amount of first generation biofuels that can be stimulated by 2020 and thereby stop more indirect emissions from happening.

(No) attempts to deal with sustainability criteria for biomass

For biomass used in the energy sector for heating, cooling or electricity production the RED doesn’t require any kind of sustainability criteria. The directive still obliged the European Commission to follow the development of biomass use and report on the need to extend the sustainability scheme.

The Commission’s report in 2010 stated that it didn’t see a need to extend the scheme to biomass but encouraged Member States to introduce their own sustainability schemes for bioenergy. This was despite the fact that 90% of the respondents of a related consultation were in favour of a sustainability scheme for all types of biomass.

Since then, Member States have not shown much interest to follow the Commission’s recommendation. As the use of biomass has sharply grown, more and more questionable practices in its use have been reported. The pressure for the Commission to make a proposal on sustainability criteria has therefore steadily increased.

Other parts of the Climate and Energy Package

Furthermore, the package includes legislation on the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) and the Effort Sharing Directive. The former is a tool for reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade system. The Effort Sharing Decision establishes binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for Member States for the period 2013–2020. These targets concern emissions from most sectors not included in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), such as transport (except aviation), buildings, agriculture and waste.



Post-2020 Climate and Energy Package

Overall, the European Union’s current climate and energy policy framework is an excellent example of how Europe can work together on a common strategy on energy issues.

The framework aims at reducing the impact of climate change, gaining energy independence, creating industrial growth and providing better environmental solutions to our energy demands.
However, greater ambition is urgently needed and there are some issues which need to be addressed in the development of the 2030 framework.
The framework should be modified so that:

  • Ambition levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) savings are significantly raised
  • A legally binding energy efficiency target is introduced
  • Binding national targets for renewable energy are maintained and ambition is raised to ensure a robust policy and stable investment framework
  • A sector-specific renewable energy target for renewable energy in transport is scrapped

The amount of energy that biomass can contribute to post-2020 targets is limited to what can be supplied by the EU’s maximum sustainable potential of domestic biomass feedstock

Read more about BirdLife Europe's work on Energy and Climate Change issues.

Role of Bioenergy in Post-2020 Mix
Bioenergy and biomass can contribute to the post-2020 targets, but its sustainable availability is not endless and hence should be limited. The level of this limit should be fixed on the basis of the EU’s maximum sustainable potential of domestic biomass feedstock supply, taking into consideration competing uses in other sectors.

The EU must prioritise energy saving for a number of reasons, including that it reduces the need for biomass in the energy sector. Biomass policy should also prioritise demand reduction and ensure that biomass is supplied and used with maximum efficiency. The principle of ‘cascading use’ should be applied. The efficient, sustainable use of small-scale bioenergy in rural communities, carried out to enhance biodiversity and resilience, should be encouraged.

In order to ensure that only sustainable forms of bioenergy are promoted, robust sustainability criteria which covers environmental and social impacts will be needed. The sustainability criteria must ensure that biomass use does not have negative effects on biodiversity. In particular, the production of biomass must not cause direct or indirect destruction or degradation of natural forests or other habitats with high value for their biodiversity.

Biomass that receives support and subsidies under EU law should be subject to comprehensive accounting of greenhouse gas emissions and deliver real emission savings. It is imperative that this methodology takes carbon debt into account and addresses errors in the way carbon is currently counted, which effectively treats all bioenergy as ‘zero carbon'.


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