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Europe's biodiesel demand is driving deforestation in South East Asia says T&E

The use of palm oil for biodiesel in the European Union (EU) surpassed palm oil use in all other products in 2017. According to Belgium-bassed European Federation Transport & Environment (T&E), transportation accounted for 51 percent of all the palm oil consumed in Europe, a 13.5 percent rise in palm biodiesel over the previous year.

The use of palm oil for biodiesel in the European Union (EU) increased by 13.5% in 2017
to surpass palm oil use in all other products (graphic courtesy T&E).

Since the introduction of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in 2009, which was designed to stimulate the uptake of renewable energy and biofuels in transportation, the use of palm oil for biofuel production in the European Union (EU) has steadily increased from 825 000 tonnes in 2008 to 3.9 million tonnes in 2017.

New data from OILWORLD, the industry reference for vegetable oils markets, shows that the use of palm oil for biodiesel in the EU has surpassed palm oil use in foodstuffs and consumer products such as cookies, chocolate spreads, shampoo or lipsticks, which combined add up to 39 percent of total use in 2017 – the lowest point in the past decade.

According to T&E, palm oil expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia is driving deforestation and the drainage of peatlands, which releases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and threatens the habitats of endangered species like orangutans and pygmy elephants.

Furthermore, that palm oil biodiesel is “three times worse” for the climate than regular fossil diesel according to the Globiom study for the European Commission. Used for biofuels, palm oil and other crop-based sources can be counted as zero-emission for climate accounting purposes. However, T&E says that with proper accounting of biofuels, road transport emissions would be 10 percent higher.

Burning palm oil in cars and trucks to meet Europe’s green energy targets must be the single stupidest thing we do in climate policy. Whichever way you look at it, it’s absurd and we have to stop this. The European Commission has to take its responsibility and get behind the European Parliament’s proposal to phase out support for palm oil biodiesel, said Laura Buffet, Clean Fuels Manager of T&E.

In January 2018, the European Parliament voted to stop counting palm oil biodiesel to the EU’s green energy targets as of 2021 which T&E says triggered “a well-funded campaign by the palm oil lobby” in Malaysia and Indonesia. The European Commission, supported by the previous Spanish and Italian governments, opposes the palm oil phase-out.

Final negotiations on this law will take place June 11, 2018, during the energy ministers council meeting and the final trialogue between the EU Council, Parliament and Commission on June 13.

If biofuels were supposed to reduce emissions, improve energy security and support farmers they are a triple failure. We’re increasingly dependent on imports of increasingly dirty biofuels. The EU must not waste this once in a decade opportunity to move away from food-based biofuels and start investing in clean renewable electricity and biofuels based on waste and residues, concluded Laura Buffet

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