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MEPs vote in favour of a phase-out of incentives for vegetable oil biofuel by 2020

April 4th, 2017

European politicians voted today in favour of a resolution calling for a halt to incentives for biofuels used in the transport sector that are linked to deforestation and peatland destruction.

Groups across the political spectrum in the European Parliament (EP) gave their support to a motion calling on the European Commission to phase out crop-based biofuels in the new Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

The use of biofuel in transportation has risen sharply in Europe, with biodiesel boasting an 80 per cent share of the biofuel market in Europe in 2015.  In 2015, 46% of all the palm oil used in Europe ended up in cars and trucks.

The EU’s current 2020 biofuel mandate calls for 10 per cent of the transport fuel of every member state to come from renewables such as biofuels.

According to the EP resolution, this policy has caused an area larger than Leinster to be converted in Southeast Asia for oil palm plantations in place of tropical forest and peatland.

“The total land use change caused by the EU 2020 biofuel mandate is 8.8 Mha, of which 2.1 Mha of land is converted in Southeast Asia under pressure from oil palm plantation expansion, half of which occurs at the expense of tropical forest and peatland,” the report states.

Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest suppliers of palm oil to Europe, with demand also leading to an increase in production in Latin America and Africa.

The decision has been welcomed by several Brussels-based groups, including the sustainable transport NGO, Transport & Environment (T&E).

Cristina Mestre, biofuels officer at T&E, said that the group was especially please with the inclusion of all vegetable oils used in the transport sector, and not just palm oil.

“As vegetable oils are so interchangeable, if we take palm oil out of the global vegetable oil market it’ll be replaced by other equally bad biodiesel feedstocks,” she said.

“Any solution that involves only banning palm oil ignores the fact that it will simply be replaced by rapeseed or soy, which also produce higher emissions than regular diesel.”

A T&E report from 2016 found that, on average, biodiesels from virgin vegetable oil can produce 80 per cent higher emissions over their full lifecycle than the fossil diesel they replace.

Lifecycle emissions include land-use change emissions where cropland biofuel production displaces the current land use, in many cases leading to peatland drainage and deforestation.