UK to miss crucial EU biofuel deadline

Green group warns failure to adopt Renewable Energy Directive measures before Sunday’s cut-off date will render key low-carbon schemes illegal

The UK is risking the wrath of the European Commission by failing to introduce biofuel sustainability standards into national law before the Renewable Energy Directive’s (RED) mandatory deadline this Sunday.

Under EU law, the Directive must be incorporated into UK legislation by Sunday 5 December, bringing with it a set of targets for members to ensure the bloc produces 20 per cent of overall energy and 10 per cent of its transport energy from renewable sources by 2020.

However, RED also demands the adoption of sustainability standards for biofuels that the UK, along with the vast majority of EU member states, have not yet implemented. The standards are meant to ensure feedstocks are not sourced from bio-diverse areas and state that only those biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings will count towards national renewable energy target.

However, critics claim the UK is continuing to subsidise biofuels through the Renewables Obligation (RO) and the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) that under the EU definition could be considered unsustainable.

Friends of the Earth’s biofuels campaigner Kenneth Richter said this means that from Sunday, the UK, along with most other EU members bar Germany, will be in breach of European law.

“All member states need to have implemented the criteria by Sunday… [and] RED also says that subsidies can only apply to biofuels that fulfil the sustainability criteria in the directive,” he told BusinessGreen. “Pretty much all member states haven’t done this, which means they are breaking EU law. It’s now up to the Commission to challenge the member states.”

He added that states’ failure to comply risked driving up emissions through land-use change and deforestation as farmers clear land to grow energy crops, and called for biofuel targets to be postponed until they could be reached using sustainable biofuels.

“The whole European biofuel policy is a mess. There is a danger we will increase emissions through the use of unsustainable biofuels,” he said. “There is no sustainability in sight. We want targets suspended until they can be shown to be met sustainably, which I don’t think they can be.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) has said in the past that the RED criteria should be adopted by the end of 2011. However, when asked for a response, it deferred to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The subsidies DECC pays to power stations burning biofuels through the RO also fall foul of the new EU laws, but a DECC spokesman told BusinessGreen that new sustainability criteria for biomass used to generate electricity, will come into force in April 2011.

He added that the government was working to transpose the rest of the Directive “as quickly as is practically possible”.

“We are aware of the need to transpose the Renewable Energy Directive into UK law and in many areas we are already compliant,” he said. “However, like many other EU member states, we have yet to fully complete this process.”

The DECC spokesman also said the government was working to align the RTFO sustainability standard with the criteria set out in RED so that all biofuels counted towards targets meet the EU’s sustainability standard.

Sam Bond of the Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA), the body which currently oversees the RFTO, said that in many respects RED would not require a huge step up from existing legislation.

For example, he said that the RED targets require a 35 per cent carbon saving from biofuels over fossil fuels, but the RTFO level is 51 per cent.

“Obviously, RTFO and RED are different animals, but there is some overlap there. We already know how to implement sustainable biofuels,” he said.

Bond argued that the biggest difference businesses would see concerned mandatory performance reporting. The RTFO demands no specific targets, but RED will establish obligatory levels, so that biofuels from non-compliant companies cannot be counted towards their specific targets.

The RFA will be abolished next year following the Treasury’s spending review and its responsibilities are set to return to the Secretary of State for Transport. But Bond said he was confident businesses would not be affected by the changes.

“[RFA disappearing] doesn’t mean that sustainable biofuels in the UK are just going to stop,” he said. “There is not going to be a vacuum where industry doesn’t have direction.”

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