EU biofuels policies

Cut emissions and protect the planet. Phase out soy and palm oil now!

Using soy and palm oil in biofuels is doing more harm than good. RFN urges the European Union and its Member States: Phase out both soy and palm oil from biofuels now!

SOY: Rainforest destroyed to make way for soy cultivation in Brazil. Photo: Kyrre Lien/RFN

The European Union concluded in March 2023 their revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), as part of the “Fit for 55” package to reach the EU 2030 climate goals. The result was a huge setback for climate mitigation, biodiversity protection, human rights and forest protection. The European Parliament’s proposal of an immediate phase-out of both soy and palm oil from biofuels was rejected, and the final agreement does not even speed up the planned phase-out of palm oil by 2030.

Thus, the use of soy and palm oil to produce biofuels for EU road transport will continue to cause extensive deforestation, land conflicts and violations of the rights of indigenous peoples and other local communities depending on forests. The EU failed to seize the opportunity to protect forests and the planet.

The current RED’s support for high deforestation-risk biofuels (such as soy and palm oil) to decarbonize the transport sector causes more emissions than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace. The current RED defines palm oil as having a high risk of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). This means expanding palm oil cultivation into carbon-rich areas such as forests and peatlands to meet rising demand. A phase-out of the use of palm oil in EU biofuels is scheduled for 2030, but, given the urgency of the climate crisis and the importance of standing forests in mitigating climate change, this timeline is too little, too late.

However, the European Commission is bound to revise the Delegated Act (2019/807) on feedstocks causing Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC). When biofuels are produced on existing agricultural land, the demand for food and feed crops remains, and may lead to someone producing more food and feed somewhere else. This can imply land use change (by changing e.g., forest or peatland into agricultural land), which implies that substantial amounts of CO2 emissions are released into the atmosphere. Currently, the Delegated Act sets a maximum threshold of 10% for the ‘adjusted’ share of expansion onto high carbon stock land that is acceptable before a crop is identified as high-ILUC-risk. Simply speaking, this means that if more than 10% of the recent expansion of the crop cultivated area is into forests and other high-carbon areas, it will be defined as a high ILUC feedstock, and will be phased out.

Accepting this level of deforestation or peatland conversion linked to commodities used for biofuels eligible for counting towards the EU's climate targets, is not in line with the commitments made by the EU under the Glasgow Declaration on Forests at COP26. Instead, it must be gradually reduced to near zero by 2030, starting immediately, for the EU to fulfill this commitment to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.

RFN therefore calls upon the European Commission to align its biofuel policies with the Glasgow Declaration on Forests by revising the Delegated Act 2019/807 in such a manner that the high-ILUC threshold is immediately lowered to 8% from 2024 and then gradually reducing it to 0 by 2030. For all feedstocks defined as High-ILUC, ambitious trajectories for phase-out by 2030 or earlier must be set. For palm oil, the phase-out date should be set to 2025.”

See why we need to phase out soy in biofuels - now.

Why is this phase-out necessary?

  • Increased demand for soy and palm oil in biofuels cannot be fully covered by increased yield and will lead to the expansion of soy and palm oil plantations into forest areas. The increased emissions from such land use change are higher than the saved emissions from the reduced use of fossil fuels, so the net carbon emission effect accelerates climate change.
  • Land use change also leads to land conflict with indigenous peoples and other local communities, undermining sustainable management of rainforests and other areas and leading to violence against environmental and human rights defenders and destruction of livelihoods.
  • Increased demand for soy and palm oil for biofuels impacts global markets for food oils, increasing scarcity and prices in a situation of a global food crisis. Agricultural land should be used for food production, not for fossil engine fuel, especially in a situation where food scarcity is a reality.

It is the total, global, demand for soy and palm oil which determines the effects on rainforests and people. It is important that soy and palm oil are phased out at the same time. Only phasing out palm oil would lead to palm oil being partly replaced by soy in biofuels, transferring the deforestation from one region to another.

PALM OIL: Vast areas of tropical forests have been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations in South-East Asia. Photo: RFN

Broad coalition releases letter to EU Council urging phase-out

At least 26 organizations, representing Indigenous Peoples and civil society in Brazil, Indonesia, and Europe, published a letter addressing members of the European Council and urging them to follow the position of the European Parliament and conclude that both palm oil and soy should be seen as high-deforestation risk feedstock and be phased-out immediately.

The organizations that have signed the letter include the Brazilian indigenous and civil society organization Campanha Nacional em Defensa do Cerrado, the Indonesian indigenous and civil society organization Pusaka, and European NGOs Transport & Environment and Deutsche Umwelthilfe. Rainforest Foundation Norway is also one of the signatories.

“This is a watershed moment for Europe, Brazil, and Indonesia, where you face a historic opportunity to ensure that the Fit for 55 policy package mitigates climate change, protects biodiversity and promotes the rights of indigenous peoples – while promoting clean, new energies in Europe, Brazil, and Indonesia."

Appeal to EU Council, signed by 26 Brazilian, Indonesian and European civil society and indigenous organizations

Two new publications highlight issues with soy and palm oil in biofuels

Tropical deforestation is driven by the relentless conversion of nature into industrial farmland for cattle grazing and cropland. Food crops like palm oil and soy are used as biofuel feedstock, including in the EU. Europe’s current support for high deforestation-risk biofuels to decarbonize the transport sector is doing more harm than good.

A new briefing published by Rainforest Foundation Norway finds that current EU biofuel regulations lead to an increase in carbon emissions from tropical deforestation. The briefing shows that the use of palm oil and soy-based biofuels does not lead to reduced carbon emissions, but rather does more harm than the fossil fuels they are meant to replace.

An additional report from the clean energy campaign group Transport & Environment finds that globally, the share of soy produced that went into biofuels had more than tripled to over 20% by 2021, with total absolute use of soy in biofuels increasing nearly 6-fold. In recent years, the use of soy in the EU’s biofuels mix has more than doubled.

Nils Hermann Ranum

Team Leader, Deforestation-free Markets Program
(+47) 990 01 032