Biofuel sustainability criteria has palm oil ‘loophole’

Trade body and NGO criticises European Commission’s attempt to improve biofuel’s environmental credentials

A palm-oil plantation
A palm-oil plantation

The European Commision has laid out new biofuel sustainability criteria but left the door open to controversial palm oil-derived versions, according to a trade body and NGO.

The commision specified its criteria yesterday setting out rules for feedstocks that pose a ‘high’ and ‘low’ risk to indirect land-use change (ILUC).

The position adopted by the commision favours low ILUC-risk biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels, which it says are better as they are the result of productivity increases or come from crops grown on "abandoned or severely degraded land".

The text also defines palm oil as as high ILUC-risk biofuel and states the commission's aim is to phase out its contribution to EU renewables targets under the 2018 Renewable Energy Directive, known as RED II.

However, European bioethanol trade body ePures said the revised text still leaves "open a loophole that would allow significant amounts" of palm oil to pass as low ILUC-risk.

ePure says this because the text gives smallholders a "free pass" on not having to prove that measures have been put in place to improve agricultural practices or that they have cultivated unused land.

ePure secretary general, Emmanuel Desplechin, said: "Whether the feedstock is produced by smallholders or large holders is irrelevant. The commission needs to do better if it really wants to get palm oil out of the EU energy picture and instead focus on European biofuels that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions without producing harmful side effects such as deforestation."

NGO BirdLife Europe senior head of policy, Ariel Brunner, echoed ePure’s disappointment, saying: "Unfortunately, it still has many loopholes and doesn’t affect other drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss, such as soy.

"The EU is still locked into a perverse policy that incentivises environmental destruction and increases greenhouse gas emissions in the name of fighting climate change."

Following yesterday's adoption by the commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have, during a two-month scrutiny period, a right to express an objection. If no objection is received during the next two months, the text will be published in the Official Journal of the EU.

The two-month period can be extended for two additional months, if requested by the European Parliament or the Council.

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