A sustainable approach towards biofuels in the Palm oil debate

This week, the European Parliament voted on a report “calling on the European Commission to take measures to ensure among others the phasing out of palm oil in biofuels by 2020 and a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the EU market”. This report tackled the highly debated issue of imported palm oil, and the potential damaging impacts on the climate and environment (in particular linked with peatland drainage and deforestation).

The EP’s non-binding resolution is a welcomed and balanced move in this debate, on which the European Commission could build when it comes to the biofuel discussions and transport decarbonisation goals. Going beyond easy stances, this resolution calls for the introduction of sustainability criteria for palm oil & products containing palm oil entering the EU along with a single mandatory certification scheme.

The EU Parliament also highlighted that the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach, which is already endorsed by the main users of palm oil, supports the production of sustainable palm oil in providing a set of rules for the implementation of companies’ commitments to “no deforestation” in their palm oil operations and supply chains.

This approach makes it possible to take responsibility and to find sound answers to the issues around sustainable palm oil production. Another example in this regard, is the Palm Oil Innovation Group, a multi-stakeholder initiative, (founded in 2013, and developed in partnership with leading NGOs & palm oil producers) that strives to achieve the adoption of responsible palm oil production practices by key players in the supply chain.

The EP Report on Palm Oil and Deforestation in its recommendations, also specifies that: “simply banning or phasing out the use of palm oil may give rise to replacement tropical vegetable oils being used for biofuel production, which would, in all probability, be grown in the same ecologically sensitive regions as palm oil and which may have a much higher impact on biodiversity, land use and greenhouse gas emissions than palm oil itself; recommends finding and promoting more sustainable alternatives for biofuel use, such as European oils produced from domestically cultivated rape and sunflower seeds”.

Farm Europe welcomes this approach, which makes a clear differentiation between the differing types of biofuels, and underlines the positive contribution of EU-sourced biofuels. As outlined in our biofuel report, a sustainable development of EU-sourced conventional biofuels is an opportunity for both transport decarbonisation (more than 50% Green House Gas savings) and the resilience of the EU agri-food sector (i.e. stable demand for farmers, rural jobs & investments) and an effective reduction of EU’s protein dependence.

EU decision-makers should promote a real fact-based strategic approach when it comes to biofuels by taking into account the actual evidence of the capacity of EU sustainable biofuels to be a key tool in contributing both to environmental sustainability and economic development in rural areas.

Clear distinction should be made between first generation EU-sourced biofuels – made from oilseeds, cereals and sugar beets grown within the European Union – and biofuels made from imported palm oil and “waste oils” or imports from territories with unverifiable sustainability or displacement effects. Undoubtedly, by efficiently strengthening sustainability criteria for the production & consumption of biofuels, the EU can reduce greenhouse gases without causing environmental damaging impacts elsewhere in the world, and without adopting a somewhat sketchy position on the potential contribution of EU agriculture to environmental goals.

The EP contribution on Palm Oil is offering a clear and sustainable political window to achieve a sound and sustainable strategy for the EU.