Sustainability criteria

Sustainability criteria

The revised renewable energy directive, adopted in December 2018 by the European Parliament and by the Council of Ministers of the European Union, establishes an overall policy for the promotion and use of energy from renewable sources in the European Union. The new directive reinforces the sustainability criteria of bioenergy through different provisions, including the negative direct impact that the production of biofuels may have due to indirect land use change (ILUC).

While biofuels are important in helping the EU meet its greenhouse gas reductions targets, biofuel production typically takes place on cropland that was previously used for other agriculture such as growing food or feed. Since this agricultural production is still necessary, it may lead to the extension of agriculture land into non-cropland, possibly including areas with high carbon stock such as forests, wetlands and peatlands. This process is known as indirect land use change (ILUC). As this may cause the release of CO2 stored in trees and soil, indirect land use change risks negating the greenhouse gas savings that result from increased biofuels.

In 2015 new rules came into force to reduce the risk of indirect land use change – in both the renewable energy directive and the fuel quality directive - and to prepare the transition towards advanced biofuels.
To address the issue of ILUC in the Clean Energy for All Europeans package, the revised renewable energy directive introduces a new approach. It sets limits on high ILUC-risk biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels with a significant expansion in land with high carbon stock. These limits will affect the amount of these fuels that Member States can count towards their national targets when calculating the overall national share of renewables and the share of renewables in transport. Member states will still be able to use (and import) fuels covered by these limits, but they will not be able to include these volumes when calculating the extent to which they have fulfilled their renewable targets. These limits consist of a freeze at 2019 levels for the period 2021-2023, which will gradually decrease from the end of 2023 to zero by 2030. 
The directive also introduces an exemption from these limits for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels certified as low ILUC-risk.

For the implementation of this approach, as required by the directive, the Commission has published a delegated act and its annex . This was adopted by the Commission on 13 March 2019 – and is subject to the standard EU comitology procedure which provides a two-month period of scrutiny for the European Parliament and the Council (with a possible two-month extension). [NB Other language versions of this text are available, by i) changing to your required language (top right corner), and ii) going to the equivalent of “Access the latest version of the delegated act text” towards the bottom of the page.]

This delegated act sets out specific criteria both for: 

  • determining the high ILUC-risk feedstock for which a significant expansion of the production area into land with high carbon stock is observed; and 
  • certifying low ILUC-risk biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels. 

The Commission has also adopted an accompanying report on the status of production expansion of relevant food and feed crops worldwide, based on the best available scientific data (REPORT and ANNEX ). This report provides information that member states can use in conjunction with the criteria set out in the delegated act in order to identify high ILUC-risk fuels and certify low ILUC-risk fuels.