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Paint it green, is ‘greener’ same as green?

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European drivers burn 100 times more palm oil in their tanks than is in the 40 billion Oreo cookies consumed worldwide every year. That’s according to new data that shows the amount of forest-ravaging palm oil used to make EU ‘bio’-diesel increased 7% last year, reaching an all-time high of 4.5 million tonnes.

In contrast, the use of palm oil to make everyday products such as bread, ice cream, hazelnut spread, chocolate, margarine, shampoo and detergent dropped to an all-time low of 2.8 million tonnes. This is because of the European biofuels policy enacted in 2009, which mandates oil corporations to mix biofuels with fossil fuel to supposedly make cars ‘greener’.

This worrying trend can be observed across many edible oils. In the last 10 years, the use of rapeseed, sunflower, soy and palm oil to make food has stagnated at around 12 million tonnes per year. But their use in ‘bio’-diesel has jumped 46%, from 8 million tonnes in 2009 to 11.7 Mt in 2019.

The new research released today by NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) uses data from OILWORLD, the industry’s reference for vegetable oils markets. According to the latest EU data, 45% of global palm oil expansion since 2008 has caused deforestation. This is why palm oil diesel is three times worse for the climate than regular diesel. On average, food- and feed-based biodiesel emits at least 80% more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil diesel.

Last year, the EU made it clear that countries are no longer obliged to use food- and feed-based biofuels after 2021 to meet the bloc’s renewable energy targets – but EU countries can still promote them if they want to. Member states are now drafting laws to implement the Renewable Energy Directive II and can phase out food- and feed-based biofuels as soon as 2021.

“The madness of burning food in cars should stop as soon as possible. This failed biofuels policy jacks up global food prices, drives deforestation and climate change, and threatens both local communities and endangered species. EU leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to phase out all food-based biofuels including palm oil as of next year.”

Cristina Mestre, biofuels manager at T&E.

Spain, the Netherlands and Italy together made up 81.5% of the bloc’s palm oil diesel production in 2019. Spain is the largest palm oil diesel producer in Europe. Last year, Spanish palm oil diesel factories transformed 1.76 million tonnes of palm oil into ‘bio’-diesel. The second place goes to the Netherlands, which produced 1.06 Mt with one palm oil diesel factory, followed by Italy with 0.84 Mt.

An international NGO coalition relaunches the #NotInMyTank campaign to urge the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands to end public support for food-based biofuels including palm and soy oil diesel as soon as next year. The NGO coalition includes Germany’s Deutsche Umwelthilfe and Robin Wood, Italy’s Legambiente, Spain’s Ecologistas en Acción, France’s Canopee and The Netherlands’ Milieudefensie.

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