Biodieselgate? British industry leads EU on elimination of palm oil biofuels, says REA

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) has revealed that UK importation and consumption of palm oil-based biodiesel for use as a feedstock for vehicles still stands at 'zero' for 2015/16, in light of new data which shows that cars and trucks were responsible for almost half of all of the palm oil used across Europe in 2014.

Data obtained this week by Transport & Environment (T&E) apparently revealed “the ugly truth” of Europe’s biofuel policy, with cars and trucks burning 45% of all palm oil used in Europe in 2014 – a six-fold increase from 2010.

The 34% growth in Europe’s diesel over that four-year period came entirely from imported palm oil, the researchers claim.

T&E executive director Jos Dings said: “We now know why the industry is withholding these numbers, they show the ugly truth of Europe’s biofuel policy. It drives tropical deforestation, increases transport emissions, does nothing to help European farmers and does not improve our energy security.

“As if Dieselgate is not bad enough, we now have a Biodieselgate on top.”

Moreover, an earlier analysis of a seperate study carried out by the European Commission revealed that the climate impact of biodiesel from palm oil is three times that of fossil diesel because palm expansion drives deforestation and peatland drainage in South-East Asia, Latin America and Africa.

UK progress

Shortly after the T&E announcement was sent out to the press, the REA released its own statement, reiterating that a resolution by biodiesel producers not to use palm oil as a biodiesel feedstock in Britain has resulted in a dramatic fall in the intake of the commodity.

The REA states that the consumption of imported palm oil-based biodiesel fell from 10% of all biofuels consumed in the UK in 2008/09 to 1.2% of biofuels in 2014/15, with none used as a feedstock so far this year.

REA head of renewable transport Clare Wenner said: “We welcome the call for greater accountability and transparency around the use of palm oil in transport.

“The British biodiesel industry has worked hard in partnership with the Department for Transport and Defra to ensure that any palm oil-based biodiesel that is imported and consumed in the UK meets clear sustainability criteria. In fact, our industry does not use it as a feedstock at all.

“The REA was an enthusiastic member of the Defra Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, and has worked hard in partnership with Government to ensure that all sectors, including those outside the energy industry, only use sustainable palm oil.”

Any palm oil-based biodiesel previously imported into Britain has met the sustainability criteria set out in the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) – the UK law which implements the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive. That EU Directive – which decides the future of the current 7% cap for first-generation biofuels after 2020 – is currently under review by the European Commission (EC).

Supply chains

The T&E report caps of an intense period of scrutiny for the palm oil industry, with a raft of consumer goods companies already accused of “letting their customers down” by failing to break the link between the use of palm oil in everyday products and deforestation.

In March, a Greenpeace ‘company scorecard’ of 14 major brands, including PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson, revealed that none of the brands could guarantee their supply of palm oil is not linked to deforestation, and that most have been “moving far too slowly” to address the issue.

But businesses are increasingly willing to take action in this area – earlier this year, Unilever cancelled its contracts with a Malaysian-based palm oil producer and trader which was suspended over deforestation and community conflict issues.

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George Ogleby

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