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Destroying the world to save it

If the world’s major biofuel consumers meet their current targets, they will generate unprecedented demand for palm oil, devastating Southeast Asia’s rainforests in the process.

As the EU grapples over its renewable energy policy, the report ‘Driving deforestation’ for the first time considers the global impact on palm oil demand of existing and proposed biofuel policies in key markets around the world. 

The report is written by Dr. Chris Malins, a leading biofuels policy expert, and analyses biofuel policies in key markets including the EU, the US, China, Indonesia and the aviation industry.

Strong measures are needed

The report shows 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 in 2030 could be more than six times higher than today – a total of up to 67 million tonnes. This would exceed today’s total global production of palm oil.

“Palm oil is unsuitable for burning in cars. Biofuel policies around the world are driving deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions, and are a social and environmental disaster. Policy-makers in the EU and the rest of the world must put in place measures to phase out palm oil-based biofuels immediately,” states Nils Hermann Ranum of Rainforest Foundation Norway.

An area the size of the Netherlands at risk

The consequences biofuel policies may have for Southeast Asia’s remaining rainforests can hardly be overstated. Given that the yield in palm oil plantations has slowly stagnated over recent years, the additional demand would likely have to be covered almost entirely be area expansion.

In the report’s high scenario this implies driving an additional 4.5 million hectares of deforestation. That’s an area the size of the Netherlands.

Beyond the obvious disaster this would spell for biodiversity and indigenous and other forest- dependent communities, the planet’s climate would be impacted with 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.

Derforestation to be halted by 2020

Previous reports, including reports commissioned by the EU Commission, have shown that the climate impact of biofuels based on palm oil is even higher than continuing to use fossil fuels.

"It's well understood that the palm oil industry in Southeast Asia is endemically linked to deforestation and peat drainage, but biofuel mandates adopted in the name of climate change mitigation continue to drive palm oil demand higher and higher. It's time to close the book on a chapter of renewables policy that has singularly failed to deliver on its stated objective of GHG emissions reduction," says Dr. Chris Malins of Cerulogy, author of the report.

The world has through the Sustainable Development Goals agreed to stop deforestation by 2020 and strive for limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Continued use of palm oil-based fuels is undermining our chance to meet global goals to stop deforestation and limit climate change,” states Ranum.

Read the report ‘Driving deforestation’ here