10 years of failed EU biofuels policy wiped out forests the size of the Netherlands – Study
Originally posted on Transport & Environment.
By Eoin Bannon
Europe’s thirst for biodiesel to power its cars and trucks has likely wiped out forests the size of the Netherlands since the introduction of the European Green Fuels Act in 2010¹, according to a new study. T&E, which carried out the study, calls on the EU to immediately end its support for palm and soybean biodiesel to avoid further deforestation, habitat loss and CO2 emissions greater than diesel fossil that it replaces.
The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) was introduced in 2010, setting a target of 10% renewable energy for transport by 2020 for each member state. This has boosted demand for biodiesel from inexpensive crops, such as palm and soybean oil, which mainly comes from Asia and South America. It is likely that around 4 million hectares of forest were subsequently cleared, destroying around 10% of the remaining orangutan habitats in the world².
Laura Buffet, Director of Energy at T&E, said:
“10 years of this law on” green “fuels and what do we have to show for it? Rampant deforestation, destroyed habitats and worse emissions than if we had used polluting diesel instead. A policy that was supposed to save the planet from the rampage in fact. We cannot afford another decade of this failed policy. We need to break the biofuels monopoly in renewable transport and put electricity at the center of ADR instead. “
Europe has burned around 39 million tonnes of palm and soy biodiesel in its cars and trucks since 2010, emitting up to three times more CO2 emissions than the fossil diesel it replaced. T&E says the EU must phase out support for all plant-based biofuels by 2030 at the latest in its next “Fit for 55” package, as part of the RED review.
Virgin vegetable oils (rapeseed, palm, soybean) made up almost 80% of the raw material used in EU biodiesel production in 2020 and the total demand for biodiesel has increased, despite the decline in overall demand for fuel during the pandemic. Some European countries have increased their biofuel mix, while others have maintained constant volumes to meet EU compliance targets. Palm oil hit an all-time high, ending a decade of growth that saw palm oil consumption triple. There was little difference in the use of rapeseed and used cooking oil (HCU), while soybean volumes increased by 17% and animal fat by 30% compared to 2019.
There was also a rapid increase (23%) in the share of locally produced hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) in the diesel pool, which requires much more vegetable oil than traditional methods. HVO’s production capacity is expected to almost double in the next 5 years, driven by new projects from major oil companies including Total, ENI and Neste.
Laura Buffet added:
“We have seen a big abandonment of palm oil in supermarkets. Nowadays, consumers can choose whether they want to buy products contaminated with palm oil. This is not the case for transport. The EU transport sector is currently supporting demand for ruinous palm oil without the knowledge of consumers. We must immediately phase out palm oil-based biofuels. “
The updated REDII, adopted in 2018, charts a path away from palm oil. The use of palm oil biodiesel will be frozen at 2019 volume levels and then, from 2023, phased out by 2030 in the EU’s green targets. For T&E, it is too late and there is a risk that palm oil will simply be replaced by soybeans and other vegetable oils, which also lead to deforestation.
Laura Buffet concluded:
“While palm oil may be the worst, as history has shown, producers will just turn to what is cheap. In reality, unless we act now, the palm will be replaced by soybeans or other virgin oils, shifting the problem from one part of the world to another. Plant-based biofuels are not the solution for transport in Europe and they never will be.
¹ The yield for palm oil is 3.16 tonnes per hectare while for soybean oil it is 0.5 tonnes per hectare. The EU’s maximum annual consumption over the last decade of these feedstocks used for biodiesel is used to calculate the amount of land believed to have displaced forests, which is 4 million hectares.
² 1.1 million hectares of land are needed for palm plantations in ancient Indonesian and Malaysian forests, the last refuge for the remaining orangutan population, estimated at 65,000 in 2017 with a population density of 0 , 45 to 0.76 individuals per square kilometer.