MEPs move to end public support for food-based biodiesel including palm oil

  • While Estonian presidency of EU proposes reintroducing 2030 renewables target for transport

The European Parliament could be on course to end state support for biodiesel from vegetable oils in 2030 after a vote in its environment committee. MEPs strongly backed the phase-out of food-based biofuels by 2030 as well as the termination of the use of palm oil biodiesel in the Renewable Energy Directive, as early as 2021.

However, the committee decided to exempt some food-based biofuels such as some bioethanol and crops grown on marginal land from this phase out. MEPs also voted to increase the overall target for advanced fuels to 9% of fuels supplied in 2030. T&E welcomed the vote to stop food-based biodiesel but said that the proposed blending mandate for advanced biofuels is too high to be sustainable.

T&E’s clean fuels manager, Laura Buffet, said: ‘We welcome the Parliament decision to stop the use of high-emitting biodiesel from palm oil, rapeseed and soy in European cars. This is good news for the climate, the world’s rainforests and people around the world living out of their land.We urge the rest of the European Parliament to confirm this vote and reject a new overall target for the transport sector, which would mandate the use of high-emitting, food-based biofuels through the back door.’

EU food-based biodiesel produces, on average, 80% more CO2 emissions than the fossil diesel it replaces, according to an analysis, based on the results of the European Commission’s own study. Biodiesel made from palm oil is three times worse for the climate than fossil diesel. Four out of every five litres of biofuel consumed in Europe is biodiesel.

A new overall target for the transport sector, which T&E said would have mandated the use of high-emitting, food-based biofuels through the back door, was rejected by the committee. However, Estonia, which holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU, has tabled a proposal to reinsert a renewable target for transport for 2030, according to a draft text leaked by Politico. The text states a 15% target for the use of renewable energy in transport by 2030. Currently, the EU has a 10% target for renewable energy in transport (mostly covered with food-based biofuels) in 2020. The Commission dropped this sectoral target in its proposal to recast the Renewable Energy Directive. The Estonian proposal has yet to be agreed by all EU countries.

Laura Buffet concluded: ‘The proposed 15℅ target makes no sense. The presidency wants to mandate a near doubling of food-based biofuels such as palm biodiesel and proposes a completely unrealistic advanced biofuels target. If adopted, the presidency's proposal would be an environmental and economic disaster. The only winners would be Indonesian and Argentinian palm and soy exporters.’

As well as increasing climate emissions, Europe’s biofuels policies do put pressure on global food prices, according to the consultancy Cerulogy which reviewed more than 100 economic modelling studies. Increased demand for biodiesel has driven the price of vegetable oils in the EU, such as rapeseed, palm oil, soy and sunflower, up 171% per exajoule (EJ) of biodiesel produced.

Between 2005 and 2015, total vegetable oil consumption in the EU decreased in the food sector (from 15.1 to 13.7 million tonnes), whereas it almost quadrupled in the bioenergy sector (going from 2.9 to 10.5 million tonnes). The EU imported more than half (53%) of feedstocks (vegetable oils mainly from rapeseed, palm and soy) used to produce crop biodiesel in EU installations in 2015.

The parliament is currently reviewing the European Commission’s proposal to recast the Renewable Energy Directive. The industry committee will vote on 28 November and a vote in plenary is expected in January 2018. Estonia aims to reach a common Council position on this law when energy ministers of the 28 member states meet on December 18.