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Norway will become first country to exclude high deforestation risk biofuels

The Norwegian parliament has voted to make Norway the first country in the world to exclude biofuels based on high deforestation risk feedstocks such as palm oil, from 2020.

“This is a victory in the fight for the rainforest and the climate”, says Rainforest Foundation Norway.

The decision is made as part of the Parliament’s adoption of the national budget for 2019. A majority in the Parliament, including the ruling coalition, requests that the government develop measures to avoid high deforestation risk biofuels. These measures are to be implemented from the beginning of 2020. The majority refers to deforestation caused by palm oil as a major concern.

The decision follows an all-time high consumption of palm oil based fuels in Norway last year. In 2017, 317 million litres of biodiesel – around 10 per cent of the total diesel consumption in Norway – were based on palm oil. Norwegian politicians, including prime minister Erna Solberg, have raised concern over the use of palm oil based biofuels, due to the link between increased demand for palm oil and deforestation.

Example to other countries

Norway has a set of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, including policy incentives to increase the use of biofuel – such as a volume blending mandate for road transport rising to 20 percent in 2020 and a road tax exemption for biofuel supplied above the volume blending mandate threshold. An unintended consequence of these policies has been that almost half of all biofuels consumed in Norway in 2017 were based on palm oil. The Norwegian government acknowledges that the demand for palm oil for fuel results in deforestation, due to indirect land use change effects.

The EU earlier this year agreed to phase out the use biofuels with high indirect land use change risk by 2030, and Norway’s decision goes far beyond this, as the Norwegian parliament requests that the measures be effected from January 1, 2020.  

 “The Norwegian parliament’s decision sets an important example to other countries and underlines the need for a serious reform of the world’s palm oil industry,” says Nils Hermann Ranum of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

Palmoil plantations are driving species towards extinction.

Europe has seen an aggressive growth in demand for palm oil, stimulated by policies to increase the consumption of renewable energy in transportation.

The increase in demand in Europe has in turn driven the expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, at the expense of carbon and biodiversity-rich rainforests and peatlands.

Driving deforestation

The report ‘Driving deforestation', released by Cerulogy and Rainforest Foundation Norway earlier this year, showed that should the current and proposed targets for future consumption of biofuels be implemented without strong measures against using palm oil feedstock, biofuel driven demand for palm oil could potentially see a sixfold increase by 2030 – a total of up to 67 million tonnes. This would exceed today’s total global production of palm oil.

Beyond the obvious disaster this demand increase would spell for biodiversity and indigenous and other forest-dependent communities, the planet’s climate would be impacted by 7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over the next two decades, resulting from deforestation and peat drainage. This is more than the total annual greenhouse gas emissions of the USA.

Also in 2017, the Norwegian parliament voted in favour of a ban on palm oil-based fuels in public procurement. However, the government has failed to implement the parliamentary decision, opting instead to propose voluntary measures in its earlier proposal for the 2019 national budget which was put forward previous to the budget agreement adopted yesterday by a parliamentary majority.

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The full text of the resolution that was passed yesterday (see p. 170 of the national budget for 2019) is as follows (Rainforest Foundation Norway’s translation):

The majority [in Parliament] is concerned that indirect land use effects from palm oil production lead to deforestation. The majority therefore believes that the use of palm oil should be limited as much as possible. The majority points out that it is important to find solutions in order to limit and phase out palm oil, and the majority will follow developments closely. The majority therefore puts forward the following proposal:  

"Stortinget [the Norwegian parliament] requests that the government formulate a comprehensive proposal for measures and taxes in the biofuels policy in order to exclude biofuels with high deforestation risk both within and outside the blending mandate. These framework conditions shall be put forward in conjunction with the national budget for 2020, and shall be introduced from 1 January 2020”