The European Commission today decided that palm oil is not a green fuel and should not be promoted because it causes deforestation. The use of palm oil in diesel, which is driven by the EU’s renewable energy targets, will be gradually reduced as of 2023 and should reach zero in 2030 although exemptions remain. Europe’s federation of green transport NGOs, Transport & Environment (T&E), said the labelling of palm oil as unsustainable is a milestone in the fight to recognise the climate impact of burning food for energy.
However, in a bid to placate palm oil producing countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Colombia, the Commission introduced a number of exemptions – which were tightened after an earlier draft. These loopholes mean some palm oil could still be promoted as a “green” road fuel. The Commission also failed to classify soy, a major contributor to deforestation worldwide, as unsustainable.
Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager at T&E, said: “Today’s decision to label palm oil as unsustainable is a breakthrough. It will offer much needed relief to the world’s wildlife and forests. But this is only a partial victory since soy and some palm oil can still be labelled green. This campaign is not over and we’ll be taking the fight to those governments and oil companies that want to keep forcing drivers to pay for fake ‘green’ fuels.”
The EU is the second largest importer of crude palm oil in the world. More than half of palm oil imported into the EU (around four million tonnes) is currently used to make ‘green’ fuel. Seven in 10 Europeans oppose the use of palm oil in diesel and over 650,000 Europeans signed petitions to stop it. More than 65,000 EU citizens took part in the public consultation preceding the European Commission’s decision.
A landmark study for the European Commission revealed that biodiesel from palm oil is three times worse for the climate than regular diesel while soy oil diesel is two times worse. This is because growing demand for biofuels like palm oil increases pressure on agricultural land which leads to deforestation – in the case of palm oil in tropical regions.
The act adopted by the Commission will be reviewed in 2021. T&E and its partners will be monitoring the likely abuse of the loopholes closely and are calling on national governments to follow France’s example and completely eliminate all palm oil from biofuels after 2020.