Biofuels & bioliquids
The RES Directive sets an overall EU target of 20% renewable energy in total energy consumption by 2020, as well as a 10% share of renewable energy in the transport sector that all Member States have to reach. Article 17 of the Directive sets sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids that aim to ensure that the biofuels used in the EU are “sustainable biofuels” (measures including GHG savings, avoiding negative impacts on biodiversity and land use, respecting existing agri-environmental legislation in the EU – if raw material cultivated in the EU, European Commission to report every 2 years on Member States and third countries that are a significant source of biofuels or raw materials, etc.). Only biofuels that meet the EU's sustainability requirements can count towards the targets in the Directive. The directive also sets up a system of verification of compliance with the sustainability criteria (article 18).
On 10th June 2010, the European Commission (EC) decided to encourage industry, governments and NGOs to set up certification schemes for all types of biofuels, including those imported into the EU, and it did so by issuing the following three documents:
- Communication on voluntary schemes and default values in the EU biofuels and bioliquids sustainability scheme
- Communication on the practical implementation of the EU biofuels and bioliquids sustainability scheme and on counting rules for biofuels and
- Decision on guidelines for the calculation of land carbon stocks. In order to facilitate the process, the EC laid down what the schemes must do to be recognised.
The package adopted focuses especially on the sustainability criteria for biofuels and should help businesses and Member States to implement the Renewable Energy Directive, coming into effect in the Member States in December 2010.
The main points are the following:
- Sustainable Biofuel Certificates: The Commission encourages industry, governments and NGOs to set up "voluntary schemes" to certify biofuel sustainability – and explains the standards these must meet to gain EU recognition. One of the main criteria is that they have independent auditors which check the whole production chain, from the farmer and the mill, via the trader, to the fuel supplier who delivers petrol or diesel to the filling station. The Communication sets standards requiring this auditing to be reliable and fraud-resistant.
- Protecting untouched nature: The Communication explains that biofuels should not be made from raw materials from tropical forests or recently deforested areas, drained peatland, wetland or highly biodiverse areas – and how this should be assessed. It makes it clear that the conversion of a forest to a palm oil plantation would fall foul of the sustainability requirements.
- Promote only biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings: The Communication reiterates that Member States have to meet binding, national targets for renewable energy and that only those biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings count for the national targets, explaining also how this is calculated. Biofuels must deliver greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels, rising to 50% in 2017 and to 60%, for biofuels from new plants, in 2018.
In terms of land with high biodiversity value, the Communication on the practical implementation of the EU biofuels and bioliquids sustainability scheme makes quite clear that raw material should not be obtained from primary forest and other (primary) wooded land; designated nature protection areas; and highly biodiverse grassland. The Commission intends to establish in 2010 the criteria and geographic ranges to determine which grassland can be considered to be highly biodiverse grassland.
As far as land with high carbon stock is concerned, raw material should not be obtained from wetland, continuously forested areas*, areas with 10-30% canopy cover, and peatland (if the status of the land has changed compared to its status in January 2008). Thus if raw material is taken from land that was wetland in January 2008 and is still wetland when the raw material is taken, using such material would not breach the criterion.
It should be pointed out that any change in land use must be taken into account in the calculation of the greenhouse gas impact (see annex II of the Communication on the practical implementation of the EU biofuels and bioliquids sustainability scheme).
Land use change should be understood as referring to “changes in terms of land cover between the six land categories used by the IPCC (forest land, grassland, cropland, wetlands, settlements and other land) plus a seventh category of perennial crops, i.e. multi annual crops whose stem is usually not annually harvested such as short rotation coppice and oil palm”.
Evidence of compliance with the land related criteria could take many forms, including aerial photographs, satellite images, maps, land register entries/databases and site surveys. The Commission also intends to publish on its transparency platform guidance for economic operators for identifying the land categories concerned.
For more information, all three documents can be found on the European Commission’s DG Energy Biofuels: Sustainability Criteria webpage.
* defined in the Directive as land spanning more than one hectare with trees higher than five metres and a canopy cover of more than 30%, or trees able to reach those thresholds in situ. It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use.
The RES Directive provides that the European Commission should report on requirements for a sustainability scheme for biomass other than biofuels and bioliquids (art. 17(9)) by 31st December 2009 and that such a report shall be accompanied, “where appropriate”, by proposals for a sustainability scheme for other energy uses of biomass, to the European Parliament and the Council.
The European Commission's report on sustainability requirements for the use of solid and gaseous biomass sources in electricity, heating and cooling was finally published on 25th February 2010 and makes recommendations (i.e. non binding) on sustainability criteria to be used by those Member States that wish to introduce a scheme at national level, in order to avoid obstacles for the functioning of the internal market for biomass. No proposals for a binding sustainability scheme similar to that which exists for biofuels and biloiquids were deemed necessary at this stage.
The report was accompanied by an impact assessment showing that binding criteria would impede serious costs to European economic actors and insisted that 90% of biomass consumed in the EU comes from European forest and by-products of other industries. In the absence of a harmonized set of rules at EU level, Member States may put in place their own national schemes and the EC report provides recommendations so as to encourage Member States to follow similar patterns.
The recommended criteria relate to:
- a general prohibition on the use of biomass from land converted from forest, other high carbon stock areas and highly biodiverse areas;
- a common greenhouse gas calculation methodology which could be used to ensure that minimum greenhouse gas savings from biomass are at least 35% (rising to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018 for new installations) compared to the EU's fossil energy mix;
- the differentiation of national support schemes in favour of installations that achieve high energy conversion efficiencies; and
- monitoring of the origin of biomass.
It is also recommended not to apply sustainability criteria to wastes, as these must already fulfill environmental rules in accordance with waste legislation at national and at European level, and that the sustainability requirements should apply to larger energy producers of 1 MW thermal or 1MW electrical capacity or above.
The report as well as related information is available on the Commission’s renewable energy Transparency Platform.
Brussels, 26th February 2010, Press Release
The Consortium of European Biomass Associations (AEBIOM and EUBIA), European forest owner associations (EUSTAFOR, CEPF and NSF) and European Biogas Association (EBA) welcomes the European Commission’s report on sustainability criteria for solid and gaseous biomass for heat and electricity
Indirect Land Use Change
As stipulated in the RES Directive (art. 19(6)), the European Commission shall, by 31st December 2010, submit a “report to the European Parliament and to the Council reviewing the impact of indirect land-use change on greenhouse gas emissions and addressing ways to minimise that impact”. “The report shall, if appropriate, be accompanied, by a proposal, based on the best available scientific evidence, containing a concrete methodology for emissions from carbon stock changes caused by indirect land-use changes, ensuring compliance with this Directive, in particular Article 17(2).”
On 14th June 2009, the European Commission issued a pre-consultation on “Indirect land use change, biofuels and bioliquids”, whose objective of the pre-consultation was to seek views on possible elements of a policy approach in addressing ways to minimise the impact of indirect land use change. This was then followed by a formal consultation document, which was issued on 30th July 2010 and which stakeholders will be responding to until 31st October 2010.
The Commission has issued several studies on the topic, all of which can be downloaded from the European Commission’s consultation webpage on indirect land use change and biofuels.
For more information on the Bioenergy sector, refer to the Bioenergy section.