The EU has not succeeded in meeting its 2020 target to reduce the greenhouse gas emission intensity of fuels sold for road transport to 6% below 2010 levels. Between 2010 and 2021, the emission intensity decreased by 5.5%, mostly because of the increased use of biofuels. Thirteen countries have succeeded in reducing their emission intensities by more than 6%. If the indirect land use change (ILUC) effects of biofuel production are considered, the emission intensity of fuels sold in the EU decreased slightly between 2019 and 2021.

Figure 1. Average greenhouse gas intensity of road transport fuels in the EU, 2010-2021

Average greenhouse gas intensity of road transport fuels in the EU, 2010-2021

Transport is responsible for more than 25% of the EU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a major contributor to climate change. Cutting emissions from transport is pivotal to achieving the EU target of becoming climate neutral by 2050.

To support a reduction in GHG emissions from transport, the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) set the target that fuel suppliers should reduce the emission intensity of fuels sold in the EU by 6% by 2020, compared with 2010 levels. Relatively consistent reductions were achieved in 2018, 2019 and 2020, however the reductions have now stagnated at 5.5%.

The overall reduction in emission intensity of road transport fuels between 2017 and 2021 can mainly be attributed to an increase in the use of biofuels, which have a lower emission intensity than fossil fuels. During this period, the share of biofuels in overall fuel sales grew from 4.5% to 6.7%. Furthermore, the emission intensity of biofuels has also been decreasing since 2018, due to a small reduction in the use of oil-based crops such as palm oil and sunflower seed, which generally have a higher emission intensity than other feedstocks used for biofuel production.

However, it is important to ensure that rising demand for biofuels does not have a negative impact on land use by displacing the production of food and feed crops and driving the conversion of land — such as forests and wetlands — to agricultural land, leading indirectly to increased GHG emissions. This phenomenon is known as indirect land use change (ILUC). The FQD requires that Member States identify the feedstock from which their biofuels originate and estimate emissions resulting from ILUC for certain feedstocks.

Emissions from ILUC are not considered for assessing compliance with the 6% 2020 reduction target. If ILUC is taken into account, the average GHG emission intensity of fuels consumed in 2021 is only 3.7% lower than in 2010; it has been decreasing since 2018 because of the reduced use of oils crops, which are substituted by sugars with lower GHG intensity.

Figure 2. Average greenhouse gas intensity reduction of road transport fuels in Member States, between 2010-2021

Progress towards meeting the 6% reduction target that was set for 2020 varies widely across Member States. In 2021, thirteen countries succeeded in decreasing their emission intensities by more than 6%, with Sweden and Finland achieving the highest reductions (21.6% and 13.2% respectively). This is because their road transport fuel mixes have relatively high proportions of biofuels (24.7% in Sweden and 15.7% in Finland) and, on average, the biofuels used have relatively low emission intensities (10.7g CO2e/MJ, 12.7g CO2e/MJ, respectively).

The two Member States that reduced their emission intensities the least between 2010 and 2021 were Croatia (2.3%) and Bulgaria (2.7%). Both countries have a low share of biofuels in their fuel mix (3.2% and 4.6%, respectively) and much higher biofuel emission intensities (19.3g CO2eq/MJ for Croatia and 50.5g CO2eq/MJ for Bulgaria, the highest in the EU).

The effect that ILUC has on reductions in Member States’ emission intensities largely depends on the feedstocks used to produce biofuels. Oil crops, having the highest emission intensity among biofuel feedstocks are used extensively in several Member States such as Austria and Poland (86% for each country). If ILUC effects are considered, the GHG emission intensity of these biofuels is only marginally lower than diesel produced from fossil fuels (i.e. 79g CO2e/MJ in Austria and 81g CO2e/MJ in Poland versus 95.1g CO2e/MJ for diesel).