The Council and European Parliament started negotiations this week to agree a common position on the revised Renewable Energy Directive. The most contentious areas of the revised Directive have centred on the overall target for renewables, initially proposed by the Commission to be 27% and around sustainability criteria for bioenergy.
These contentious issues are central to the trilogue negotiations between Council and Parliament. As usual, before any negotiation, both sides have been making some noise, and seemingly unwilling to compromise. The Council’s notes on the four-column document on what it is willing to compromise on was minimal to say the least, and the rapporteur Mr Blanco-Lopez at events over the last week or two has been venting his frustration at the Council’s intransigence.
The two paths to get to this point have been very different, with the Council having a fairly smooth ride through the process – despite the fact that before the proposal, several of the northern countries were against any bioenergy sustainability policy at all, fearful of a competence grab. There was never really a debate as to whether this is an energy or environment issue, with the Energy Working Group taking the lead, and coming to a fairly uncontroversial position, if unambitious by Parliament’s standards.
Meanwhile in the European Parliament it has been all about the politics and the target, once again keen to demonstrate that they are the institution that leads on climate ambition. But it wasn’t without a struggle, starting with a fight over which committee gets to lead the sustainability aspects. ENVI came out top, leading on most of the bioenergy aspects of the RED II – also the most contentious. Pro-forest biomass amendments slipped through the ENVI committee by only one vote, and the Committee, and later the plenary, sought to ban or restrict biofuels, in particular palm oil for transport, a big step away from the Commission proposal. This was a big victory for the Greens, who have campaigned on this issue for years and managed finally to win the support of the EPP, and it is the Green ENVI Committee rapporteur who is doing most of the talking in the trilogue on the details of the Directive itself with seemly little oversight from his EP colleagues.
The Commission has taken a back seat since the proposal came out in 2016, but now that trilogues are coming out it is starting to take sides. The Commission seems to be taking the side of the Council on nearly all areas of their General Approach, uncomfortable with the Parliament seeking outright bans, but they agree with the Parliament’s push for greater ambition. A new report published this week by the International Renewable Energy Agency claims that 34% is entirely feasible, which the Commission now seem to agree with. This has boosted the Parliament’s hand considerably against the Council’s reluctance to commit to a higher target. But the Commission also seems sceptical of the Parliament’s indifference to bioenergy, and slightly heavy handed approach to how this target should be delivered.
For now each side’s heels are dug in on their issues, but we can expect lots more difficult negotiations over the next three months and the Commission has a job coaxing each side out to the middle. It appears that the main challenge is whether the Commission can persuade the Parliament and the Council that the Parliament’s ambition can be delivered using the Council’s more stripped down approach.