Greenhouse gas emission intensity of fuels and biofuels for road transport in Europe

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 2020, the emission intensity decreased by 5.5%, mostly because of the increased use of biofuels. Eleven countries have succeeded in decreasing 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 2020.

Published: ‒ 25min read

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. In 2018, the average emission intensity of fuels in the EU was 3.7% lower than in 2010, and in 2019, a 4.3% reduction had been achieved. For 2020, a 5.5% reduction was achieved compared with 2010 levels.

The decrease in emission intensity of road transport fuels between 2019 and 2020 can be attributed mainly to an increase (from 5.6% to 6.8%) in the proportion of biofuels used, as biofuels have a lower emission intensity than fossil fuels. 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 us 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 2019 is only 3.3% lower than in 2010; it has been decreasing since 2018 because of the decreased use of oils crops, which are substituted by sugars with lower GHG intensity.

Progress towards meeting the 6% reduction target that was set for 2020 varies widely across Member States. In 2019, only Finland and Sweden. In 2020, eleven countries succeeded in decreasing their emission intensities by more than 6%, with Sweden and Finland still achieving the highest reductions (19.1% and 7.2% respectively). This is because their road transport fuel mixes have relatively high proportions of biofuels (23.2% in Sweden and 8.7% in Sweden) and, on average, the biofuels used have relatively low emission intensities (15.4 g CO2e/MJ, 12.1 g CO2e/MJ, respectively).

The two Member States that reduced their emission intensities the least between 2010 and 2020, namely Croatia (2.2%) and Latvia (2.9%), have a low share of biofuels in their fuel mix (3.2% in Croatia and 4.0% in Latvia) and, in the case of Latvia, the biofuels used have much higher emission intensities (26.9g CO2e/MJ).

The effect that ILUC has on reductions in Member States’ emission intensities largely depends on the feedstocks used to produce biofuels. Oil crops are used extensively in several Member States such as Austria and Poland (85% for each country) and, 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).

Supporting information


References and footnotes