Diesel vehicles burnt almost half of Europe’s palm oil in 2015

The share of Europe's imported palm oil being used up by diesel cars and trucks has reached an all-time-high, despite further evidence of its harmful environmental effects, according to a new report from an independent industry forecasting group.

The research from Oilworld shows that 46% of Europe’s palm oil consumption came from biodiesel in 2015, overtaking the end products of food, animal feed an oleochemical use. Palm oil accounted for 32% of biodiesel, and 2% of all diesel burned in Europe, Oilworld claims.

Palm oil is the cheapest biodiesel made from virgin vegetable oil. But according to green group Transport & Environment (T&E), 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. T&E is blaming the European Commission (EC) for failing to inform drivers of its polluting impacts.

Commenting on these latest figures, T&E’s biofuels officer Jori Sihvonen said: “Citizens can do their best to avoid palm oil in their food and cosmetics. But the European Union (EU) biofuels rule force them to burn palm oil in their cars, almost always without their knowledge. With this law, the Commission is failing the environment while deceiving consumers trying to do their best for the planet”.

‘Ugly truth’

The Oilworld report follows leaked documents which showed that the EC intends to source 3.8% of European transport fuels from land-based biofuels between 2021 to 2030, despite pledging to phase-out these biofuels as part of the Strategy for Low Emission Mobility blueprint.

Data obtained earlier this year by T&E apparently revealed “the ugly truth” of Europe’s biofuel policy, with a six-fold increase of palm oil burned by cars and trucks in Europe since 2010. If the world were to follow Europe’s current thirst for palm oil biodiesel, 4,300,000 hectares of land in the tropics would be needed to quench it, T&T states.

“If the world consumes as much palm oil biodiesel as Europe does, it will be game over for the world’s rainforests,” Jori Sihvonen said. “We need to stop this biodiesel madness and the best place to start is where all began: Europe. We therefore urge the Commission to phase out land-based biodiesel by 2025 and all land-based biofuels by 2030.”

Stuck in reverse

Transport is responsible for around a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it the single biggest emitting sector in the continent. It is the only major EU sector where emissions today are well above their 1990 levels, making its decarbonisation vital if the EU is to hit its climate change goals.

The current EU Directive, adopted in 2008, requires each EU member state to have “at least 10%” renewable energy used in transport by 2020 – including from biofuels and other sources like green electricity.

At a UK level, the Conservative Government has been told it will miss transport targets unless “major policy improvements” are rapidly enforced. In response, Chancellor Philip Hammond anounced £390m of new funding for low-carbon transport in last week’s Autumn Statement.

George Ogleby

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