The Government is being called on to lift its ambition for emissions-cutting biofuels as it moves to finalise rules that will mandate their use following a decade long push by climate activists.
Ministers are currently weighing up setting a formal biofuels mandate, with a decision expected to be made by Transport Minister Michael Wood before the end of the year.
A mandate would require people who sell fuels to reduce their emissions by a certain percentage. They would do this by blending a certain amount of biofuel into their existing fuels.
Motorists likely wouldn't know the difference, but by 2025, a small percentage of the fuel in your car could be biofuel.
More than 60 countries around the world encourage the update of biofuels using some kind of mandate. The former Labour Government implemented a mandate in 2007, but it was repealed by the incoming National Government in 2008, before it took effect.
Earlier this year, the current Labour Government proposed bringing that mandate back. The current proposal is to require fuel suppliers to reduce their emissions by 1.2 per cent for 2023, 2.3 per cent for 2024 and 3.5 per cent for 2025.
This would be done by blending a small amount of biofuels with conventional fuels in increasing amounts. Currently, just 0.1 per cent of our total liquid fuel sales are biofuels, compared with an average of 4 per cent globally.
One Biofuel manufacturer submitting on the proposals called on the Government to be more ambitious, noting that the proposed mandate is a shadow of mandates used by Governments overseas.
The EU aims to get about a quarter of its transport fuel needs by 2030 from renewable sources. Biofuels are currently doing the heavy lifting, behind these targets, comprising the majority of transport emissions reductions.
Biofuel maker Neste has submitted on the mandate and is calling on the Government to lift its emissions reductions target from the relatively low level now.
It also wants the Government to look at adopting further biofuel incentives, like exempting 100 per cent biofuel powered vehicles from road user charges.
Neste's spokesman Phil Moore said his fuel would lead to emissions reductions of "up to 90 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions over the fuel's life cycle when compared with fossil diesel".
He pointed to the fact that other countries were being "far more ambitious"
"Other jurisdictions are already being far more ambitious than this. As of 2020, California had a 7.5 per cent mandate and British Colombia had 10 per cent. Finland has a 18 per cent emissions reduction mandate for 2021, and France and Spain are currently mandating that 8 per cent of all energy content in fuels comes from renewables," he said.
The idea behind a mandate for biofuels is that it works as a stopgap to reduce the emissions of vehicles that are currently on the roads.
Most vehicles that enter the national fleet will be driven for something like 20 years. This means that despite attempts to slowly electrify the car fleet, many conventional, fossil fuel powered cars will continue to be driven on New Zealand roads for decades to come.
Other areas of transport, like heavy road freight, shipping and even aviation are unlikely to be completely decarbonised in the near future, meaning substituting biofuels is the only way to reduce their net emissions.
The problem for the Government and biofuel producers is that biofuels are not cost competitive on the open market. This means that if the Government wants to increase their use, they have to use incentives, or compulsory mandates.
There are other challenges too. With fuel costs rising, lumping an additional cost on to people's fuel bill could be unpopular. Previous biofuels mandates have also been accused of encouraging deforestation, with rainforests cleared to grow crops for biofuels. The Government intends to combat this by setting "sustainability criteria".
Act's transport spokesman Simon Court is a sceptic.
"The emissions trading scheme is the best way to offset New Zealand's emissions," he said.
"When it comes to biofuels it's much better for the environment for New Zealand to offset its emissions somehow rather than try to replace every fuel with electricity or biofuels," he said.
Court said it would be difficult to increase the amount of biofuel New Zealand uses because other countries, particularly those in Europe were offering massive incentives and subsidies for the materials that New Zealand would turn into biofuels.
"Other OECD countries are offering massive subsidies for what we used to turn into biofuels," Court said.
Wood has promised a decision on the mandate by the end of the year. He said biofuels were "an important part of our Clean Car Package to reduce emissions."
"Our proposed Sustainable Biofuels Mandate will help us reduce emissions from cars, trucks, ships and planes by 1.3 million tonnes until 2025 while zero emissions options are developed – this is significant," he said.
He said submitters views would be taken "into consideration before deciding on a way forward".
"It was an Act-National government that abolished the biofuels mandate in 2008 that would have reduced emissions by over 6 million tonnes had it been left in place and their ongoing trenchant opposition to any direct measure to reduce emissions is simply the latest incarnation of climate change denialism," Wood said.
He has backing from the Green Party's Julie Anne Genter, who said biofuels are "an important part of immediately reducing transport emissions, especially for heavy vehicles".
But Genter urged that any biofuels be produced sustainably. She said a Green Party bill that was killed off in 2009, would have done this.