Momentum growing behind phase-out of palm oil diesel in Europe

More than 320,000 citizens have added their voices to the campaign to stop subsidising the use of palm-oil biodiesel in Europe’s cars and trucks. The #NotInMyTank petition calls on the European Commission to ensure the phase-out of biodiesel made from palm oil – as it is required to do under the recently revised Renewable Energy Directive.

The growth in momentum for a palm-biodiesel phase-out comes as new polling finds that the vast majority of Europeans don’t know they’re putting palm oil in their tanks when filling up with diesel. The survey of 4,500 Europeans in nine countries also finds that a vast majority is also opposed to it.

Some 82% of citizens surveyed were not aware of the fact that diesel fuel has palm oil added to it. When asked whether they would support measures to end policy support and subsidies for palm oil in biodiesel in Europe, 69% of respondents said they would welcome the change, with only 14% against it and 16% with no opinion on the matter.

Italians and Hungarians express the strongest opposition to burning palm oil in cars and trucks (75%), followed by the French (71%), the British (69%) and the Poles (69%). The European Commission has until 1 February 2019 to publish a delegated act establishing the science-based criteria to execute the progressive elimination of high emitting biofuels, such as palm oil in diesel.

Palm oil expansion to feed cars in Europe drives deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia. Biodiesel made from palm oil is three times worse for the climate than fossil diesel. Last year, 51% of the palm oil used in Europe ended up in the tanks of cars and trucks. This makes drivers the top (albeit unaware) consumers of palm oil in Europe.

T&E – as part of an international coalition of environmental NGOs in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands – has launched a campaign to urge the Commission to execute the phase-out of palm oil in diesel in a delegated act by February 2019. The coalition is organising public initiatives across the continent that will culminate in a ‘European day of action’, with multiple demonstrations in Rome, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, and Brussels, headquarters of the Commission. Activists have announced multiple ‘Gatherings of the Apes’ to convince policymakers to take action to avoid the extinction of many species, including orangutans, caused by deforestation.

Meanwhile, this week the French National Assembly voted to end tax incentives for adding palm oil to diesel fuel as of 2020, effectively removing a powerful subsidy that made this environmentally destructive practice economically attractive for oil companies. French parliamentarians also decided to treat palm oil diesel as a regular fuel and not as a green fuel – therefore it cannot count towards Europe’s targets for renewable energy in transport.

Outrage at the environmental impact of producing palm oil for biodiesel is also growing outside Europe. A lengthy article in last month’s New York Times magazine detailed how public policy to promote biofuels in the US and Europe is aiding the spread of palm plantations, thus driving deforestation.

‘Right now deforestation globally contributes 15 percent of the planet’s total emissions, the same as all the cars and trucks and trains across the globe,’ the article states. ‘On paper, biodiesel is a way to make all those modes of transportation produce less carbon. But in the world as it is, that calculation is far more likely to lead to catastrophe.’