EU Parliament orders Commission to execute the phase-out of palm oil in diesel

The European Parliament today adopted a new law to phase out highest-emitting biofuels made from palm and soybean oil. The law states that these harmful biofuels cannot grow above each country’s 2019 consumption levels and should gradually decrease from 2023 onwards until reaching 0% in 2030. Whilst the principle of phasing out palm and soy biofuels is enshrined in the new law, the Commission has until 1 February 2019 to publish a delegated act establishing the science-based criteria to carry out the commitments made by the EU Parliament and governments. 

The new law, already agreed with EU governments, also scraps the target for food-based biofuels after 2020. This means that European countries are no longer forced to subsidise food-based biofuels in order to meet EU’s green energy targets for 2030. EU countries still have the freedom to mandate food-based biofuels after 2020, but the law caps their contribution to the consumption levels achieved in each country in 2020, with a maximum of 7% of all fuels.

Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager at Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “Forcing motorists to burn palm oil in their cars because it’s supposedly green is appalling. It’s been a disaster for rainforests and wildlife, and it’s a major public relations disaster too. This new law voted today gives the Commission three months to put an end to European governments subsidising the highest emitting biofuels such as palm oil and soy in diesel. The ball is now firmly in the European Commission’s court.” 

For advanced fuels the new law sets a de facto target of 7%. Half of that will need to come from advanced biofuels from waste and residues whilst the rest is expected to come from renewable electricity and other fuels. In reality the shares of advanced biofuels and renewable electricity will be lower because of multipliers of 2 and 4 respectively.

The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive was introduced to accelerate the uptake of renewables such as solar and wind but its transport chapter has promoted the use of food crops like palm oil, rapeseed oil and soy oil to make biofuels. 

Biodiesel made from virgin vegetable oil is the most popular and cheapest biofuel in the European market with a market share of three-quarters in 2017. Of all biodiesel, palm oil has the highest greenhouse gas emissions – three times the emissions of fossil diesel, because palm expansion drives deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. 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.

Biofuels can be counted as zero-emission energy for climate purposes. If we would properly account for biofuels’ real-world emissions, road transport emissions would be 10% higher.

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Nico Muzi
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