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The Renewable Energy Directive

In 2020, at least a 20 % share in the Community’s gross final consumption of energy shall come from renewable sources. For this purpose the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) (RED), legislated in June 2009, establishes a common framework for the promotion of energy from renewable sources. In its core it sets mandatory national targets of how much each Member State will have to contribute to the 20 %- target (Annex I), and it defines an extra target for the transport sector of 10 % from renewable sources, being the same for each Member State (Article 3 (4)).

As this special 10 % target will for the largest part be covered by biofuels, the RED sets sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids. These criteria – being identical in the Fuel Quality Directive – refer to the protection of land with high ecological value, greenhouse gas emission savings, and the socio-economic impact. A reliable and easy-to-administrate verification system is to be drawn up.

Sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids (RED Article 17)

Biofuels which shall be accounted towards the national targets need to comply with a number of sutainability criteria. The minimum greenhouse gas emission saving from the use of biofuels must be 35 %. From 2017 on, it must be 50 % , and from 2018 it must be 60% for new installations.

Raw materials for biofuels must not come from land that had one of the following statuses in 2008 and no longer has that status: primary forest, protected area, highly biodiverse grassland, areas with high stocks of carbon, or peatlands.

For social and economical sustainability, the RED does not set any must-criteria. However, it requests, every two years, a report of the European Comission on the impact of EU's biofuel policy on the availability of foodstuffs at affordable prices, in particular for people living in developing countries, as well as on land rights, and whether main producer countries have ratified a number of international labour conventions. The Commission shall, if appropriate, propose corrective action, in particular if evidence shows that biofuel production has a significant impact on food prices.

Verification of compliance with the sustainability criteria (RED Article 18)

Member States shall require economic operators to show that the sustainability criteria have been fulfilled. Economic operators therefore have to use a mass balance system which allows consignments of raw material or biofuel with differing sustainability characteristics to be mixed, and they have to arrange for an adequate standard of independent auditing of the information.

Regarding imports of raw material or biofuels, the EU shall seek to make bilateral or multilateral agreements with third countries that guarantee compliance with the sustainability criteria; the Commission may then decide that those agreements demonstrate that biofuels produced from raw materials cultivated in those countries comply with the sustainability criteria.

Calculations of the greenhouse gas impact of biofuels and bioliquids (RED Article 19)

RED Annex V give default values of 22 biofuel production pathways that may be used. For other production pathways economic operators have to do their own calculations according to the methodology in the same Annex. In doing so disaggregated default values may be used for some factors (e.g. for the transportation of biofuels). Total GHG emissions are the sum of emissions from cultivation, processing and transportation of biofuels.

Default values are only valid if no land use change has taken place for cultivation of the raw materials, and when raw materials are cultivated:
- outside the EU, or
- in the EU in areas included in one of the lists that are provided by Member States in March 2010. The areas in these lists should follow the regions classified as level 2 or a more disaggregated level in the nomenclature of territorial units for statistics (NUTS). The lists give the NUTS-2 regions where the typical GHG emissions from cultivation of agricultural raw materials can be expected to be lower than or equal to the emissions reported under the heading "Disaggregated default values for cultivation" in part D of RED Annex V.

The European Commission has to submit a report how to deal with indirect land use change by December 2010, and, biannually, a report on the default values including necessary corrections.


Download of the Renewable Energy Directive.

See further documents of the European Commission related to RED in general (transparency platform) and to the sustainability criteria for biofuels in particular.