Why is palm oil bad?

Palm oil production is one of the key drivers of environmental destruction in Southeast Asia and increasingly in South America and three times worse than the fossil diesel it replaces

Palm oil production is responsible for rainforests destruction, swamp and peatland drainage and more than half of all the palm oil imported into Europe ends up in the fuel tanks of cars and trucks.

Palm oil and global warming

Almost all oil palm grows in areas that were once tropical forests, some of them quite recently (see map below). This environmental destruction threatens biodiversity and increases greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn drives global warming.

Deforestation means burning and chopping down trees that are the habitats of endangered species such as orangutans and elephants.

People living from and in those forests are being displaced or disowned, even murdered.

The real palm oil problem: it’s not just in your food, it’s in YOUR CAR too!

Europeans are increasingly eating less and less palm oil and instead are inadvertently burning more and more in cars and trucks.

Drivers in Europe are forced (most of the time without their knowledge) to fill up their diesel cars with palm oil biodiesel.

In 2018, 65% of all the palm oil imported into the EU was used for energy. More than half (53%) of all palm imports was used to make biodiesel for cars and trucks – an all-time high – and 12% to generate electricity and heating – another record.

Palm oil used for biodiesel grew again in 2018 – by 3% – while the use of palm oil to make food and animal feed dropped significantly, by 11%.

Since 2009 virtually all of the growth in biodiesel has come from imported palm oil.

Palm oil biodiesel is the worst of all biofuels. It releases THREE times the greenhouse gases emissions of fossil diesel.

If the world were to follow Europe’s current thirst for palm oil biodiesel, 4,300,000 hectares of land in the tropics would be needed to quench it. That area is equal to the remaining rainforests and peatlands of Borneo, Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel

In January 2018, the European Parliament proposed to end public subsidies for the use of palm oil biofuels in 2021. If Europe were to end support for palm (and soy) oil, this would send a powerful signal to world markets, reduce demand for palm oil and force palm oil producing countries to get serious about ending deforestation, certification and sustainability.

But this has provoked a strong backlash, from a number of palm oil producing countries as well as some EU states that would rather sell fighter jets to Indonesia and Malaysia than stop burning palm oil.

A well-funded campaign by the palm oil lobby in Malaysia and Indonesia exerted maximum diplomatic pressure on the Commission, European Parliament and national governments. Malaysia and Indonesia threatened EU institutions with WTO complaints, trade retaliation, a freeze on Airbus aircraft purchases and terminating military cooperation.

In the course of five days prior to the final EU negotiations on this law, 92,000 Europeans urged the Commission to stop subsidising palm oil diesel.

The Commission, the EU Council and the EU Parliament reached a deal in June 2018 on a final EU law. The final law does not terminate policy support to palm oil diesel in transport in 2021, but there is a commitment to phase out the support to high emitting biofuels such as palm oil by 2030. Support to biofuels with a high risk of ILUC impact will be frozen at 2019 levels until 2023 and phased out completely in 2030. The Commission has until the 1st of February 2019 to enact a methodology to make this phase-out operational.

If it does so, Europe could cut its palm oil consumption in half.

But, while ending palm oil biofuels is crucial, other feedstocks will simply replace it. Soy, rapeseed, corn and wheat come with their own significant drawbacks. The only way to truly end the terrible impacts of crop biofuels is to end their use entirely.