Weak scheme supervision undermines EU biofuel target

21 Jul 16

The European Commission’s lax supervision over the biofuels used by member states risks undermining the European Union’s 2020 targets on renewable transport energy, the European Court of Auditors has warned.



Under the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive, member states can only use biofuels certified as sustainable in order to reach their 2020 goal of sourcing 10% of transport energy from renewable sources.

Achievement toward the target is mostly measured through voluntary schemes recognised by the commission. But auditors found many of these are weak and based on unreliable or incomplete data.

Many schemes did not consider whether the production of the biofuels they certified carried risks such as conflict over land ownership, forced or child labour, poor working conditions or health and safety dangers.

Auditors also said schemes were not transparent enough and were governed only by a few members, which increased the risk of conflicts of interest. They also lacked procedures to ensure that biofuels came from waste or that materials used to make them fulfilled environmental requirements – a point the commission has recognised.

In regards to data, auditors found member states were able to count the use of biofuels not certified as sustainable toward the target. This would mean statistics used to count toward the achievement of the 10% transport energy target were overestimated.

While member states are responsible for the reliability of data, auditors highlighted that because the commission does not supervise the operation of these schemes, it is neither able to ensure they correctly apply standards or detect infringement of the rules.

Auditors also flagged issues with comparability and gaps in the data. For example, some schemes’ assessment did not cover the impact of more land cultivation for food to make up for crops used in biofuel production.

While conceding measuring this “indirect land-use change” presents technical difficulties, auditors said without this information the “relevance of the certification system is undermined”.

Bettina Jakobsen, the member of the ECA responsible for the report, said: “The 2020 targets for sustainable energy in transport are important for the EU environment and for all transport users.

“Tracking achievement of the targets must be based on sound data and a reliable certification system.”

A commission spokeswoman said: "[The commission gives] full support to the Court's audit of the EU's policy on the sustainability of biofuels. The commission continues work to improve bioenergy sustainability. 

"As foreseen in the Energy Union Strategy, later this year the Commission will come forward with a policy proposal for the sustainability of bioenergy, including not only liquid but also gaseous biomass for the period 2020-2030. The conclusions of the audit will provide useful input for this process."

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