Biofuels policies to massively increase deforestation by 2030 - study

The biofuels policies of the EU and other regions are set to cause a massive increase in deforestation and CO2 emissions by 2030, a new study has found. Demand for palm and soy oil may increase by up to 90% and 75%, respectively, on their current production levels - with the aviation industry potentially the largest consumer.

Palm oil biofuels are now considered as ‘high ILUC risk’

This increase would cause an estimated 7 million hectares of deforestation, including up to 3.6 million hectares of peat drainage, according to expert consultancy Cerulogy. This additional deforestation would release an estimated 11.5 billion tons in CO2 emissions – more than China’s current annual emissions from burning fossil fuels.

“Current biofuel policies around the world may lead to massive deforestation and increased greenhouse gas ambitions,” said Nils Hermann Ranum of Rainforest Foundation Norway, which commissioned the study. “Policy makers and industries around the world must halt the use of high-deforestation risk feedstock for biofuels, like palm oil and soy, to ensure that biofuel policies don’t have an adverse impact on the climate and increase rainforest destruction.”

Biodiesel from palm oil is three times worse for the climate than regular diesel while soy oil diesel is two times worse, according to a European Commission study. The EU is the second largest importer of crude palm oil in the world, and the majority of those imports (53%) are currently subsidised to make ‘green fuel’ for cars and trucks. This increases pressure on agricultural land which leads to deforestation.

Last year the EU decided that the policy support to palm oil in diesel will be gradually reduced from 2023 and should reach zero in 2030. Palm oil will no longer be counted as a green fuel to meet the EU’s 2030 renewable energy targets though some exemptions will remain. 

T&E said the study shows the importance of tightening loopholes that allow palm oil to be used in cars and trucks. “Biofuels were supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but this is not what’s happening in reality. If decision makers don’t avoid crop biofuels and especially high-risk feedstock like palm oil and soy, biofuel policies risk adding fuel to the current forest fires around the world,” said T&E’s energy director, Laura Buffet.