'Stop soy becoming the new palm oil!'

The EU is encouraging forest destruction in the Amazon and Latin America through its biofuels policy, a new study has found. T&E says the findings mean a change to EU biofuels policy is now a matter of urgency if soy is not to become the new palm oil.

Over several years, the EU committed much of its transport future to biofuels, hoping this would solve environmental, agricultural and energy-security problems with one technology. Growing evidence that indirect land-use impacts made some biofuels worse for climate change than diesel has led to a change of direction, notably away from palm oil. But as use of palm oil is expected to recede between now and 2030, the gap in the EU biofuels market is likely to be filled by soy, which presents its own deforestation problems.

Mindful of this danger, T&E commissioned a report by expert consultancy Cerulogy, which shows that soy cultivation is a major cause of deforestation in the Amazon and other critical ecosystems in Latin America, and that additional demand for soy diesel as a biofuel on the European market would exacerbate the problem. 

T&E’s biofuels manager Cristina Mestre said: “Soy imports for biodiesel will cause deforestation on an epic scale if we don't change the EU’s green fuels law. Fortunately there’s a simple fix – the European Commission has already decided palm diesel will no longer count as green, so now they should do the same for soy diesel. Otherwise soy risks burning a big hole in Europe’s climate plans.”

EU law requires oil companies to mix supposedly ‘sustainable’ biofuels with fossil fuel to make cars ‘cleaner’. Palm oil has finally been labelled unsustainable, an important step for climate action, but if the gap left by the phase-out of palm oil is filled by soy, the deforestation impacts could be dramatic. 

Cerulogy’s report finds that demand for soy for European biodiesel could double or even increase four times by 2030 compared to what is used today, causing deforestation of an area greater than the size of London in tropical forests and wetlands.

The report suggests biodiesel from soy should cease to qualify for support under the revised Renewable Energy Directive, which could save tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 equivalent, but it also warns about leaving the door open for any crop-oils, especially rapeseed, in EU legislation. “The benefits may be no greater than the benefit of switching back to fossil diesel,” the report says.

Cristina Mestre added: “Burning any food crops to power our vehicles is actually worse than burning diesel. Now that cars and trucks can run on clean electricity, any requirement for biofuels is both outdated and immensely destructive at the time when we need to show urgency about tackling climate change.”