Emissions from palm oil biodiesel highest of major biofuels

30 January 2012

Calculations by the European Commission have revealed that the greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil based biofuels are the highest of any major biofuel, due to deforestation and peatland degradation associated with the ever-expanding palm oil industry.

As food production is displaced to grow fuel crops, demand for biofuels causes indirect land use change as more and more forested land is opened to grow food. Once these impacts are taken into account, some biofuels, including palm oil, do not actually offer any greenhouse gas emissions savings compared to the petroleum based fuels they are replacing. Fuels made from palm oil or soybeans are also almost as bad for the climate as fuel from tar sands.

Scientists and environmental groups have been warning of these impacts for several years, and the Guardian has commented in light of these data that "palm oil and soy beans now appear utterly unsupportable as a source of biodiesel."

The EC is considering the total carbon emissions caused by various biofuels once indirect land use change is taken into account. The data is likely to lead to a serious re-think in terms of which biofuels should be classified as 'sustainable'. The EC's own criteria state that a biofuel should lead to a minium 35% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to regular fuel.

It is expected that in light of these data, the European Commission will make new legislative proposals on biofuels in the spring.  


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