Palm oil is not a green fuel, says EU

The use of palm oil in diesel will be gradually reduced from 2023 and should reach zero in 2030, the European Commission has decided. Though some exemptions will remain, palm oil will no longer be counted as a green fuel to meet the EU’s 2030 renewable energy targets as it causes deforestation. 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.

The exemptions were initially introduced in a bid to please palm oil producing countries – though the Commission tightened some after in the final draft. The Commission also refused to classify soy, a major contributor to deforestation worldwide, as unsustainable.

T&E’s clean fuels director, Laura Buffet, said: ‘The 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.’

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. Growing demand for biofuels like palm oil increases pressure on agricultural land which leads to deforestation.

Yet 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 for cars and trucks. More than 650,000 Europeans signed petitions, organised by T&E and other groups, to stop palm being used in transport. More than 65,000 EU citizens took part in a public consultation preceding the European Commission’s decision.

EU member states and the EU Parliament have until 13 May to pass or veto the act proposed by the Commission. Until now, they have not objected to the rules. The act 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.

Laura Buffet said: ‘There is no such thing as green palm oil or soy biodiesel. Governments and oil companies thinking they’ll be able to get away with forcing motorists to burn food in the future should think twice. The fuels of the future aren’t based on food, they’re based on sustainable wastes, residues and electrons.’