Palm Oil: A Solution for EU Predicament on Feedstock for Renewable Energy

  • We wrote previously on the challenges faced by the European Union to meet its commitments towards reducing emissions in their fight against climate change. EU member states like Belgium are quick to ban palm oil from biofuels even though the European Commission has issued a damning verdict on the climate and energy report submitted by the Belgian government.
  • The challenges leave no doubt that palm-oil based biofuels will be a needed source of bioenergy for the EU especially since biomass has been called out as worse than fossil fuels by scientists.
  • The EU’s ambitions to be climate neutral by 2050 will be further challenged by its agricultural sector and the question of rapeseed as a feedstock for biofuels.

Why should imported rapeseed qualify??

Thanks to the recent reports on the deforestation in South American countries for soy, the EU has finally placed imported soy under scrutiny as well.

But getting a free pass to qualify as a renewable feedstock for biofuels in the EU is canola from Australia and Canada.

Biofuels International reported in 2017 that:

“The European Commission has confirmed that the Australian canola meets the EU’s strict new feedstock requirements for biodiesel. Stringent EU greenhouse gas reduction targets could have seen the European market closed to Australian farmers from 2018, had they not demonstrated they grow low-emission canola.”

The Australian government portals said it as:

“The EU canola market is dominated by Australia (53%) and the Ukraine (38%) due to the EU’s requirements for certified sustainable, non-GM canola144, the main end-use of which is biodiesel production.”

Canada as the biggest producer of canola globally looked towards the EU biodiesel industry to pick up the export slack from trade tensions with China and reported a timely surge in exports to Europe.

The EU seems to be extremely flexible with the negative environmental impacts of canola. EU demands for sustainability like the use of pesticides or genetically modified supplies disappear when it comes to imported canola. Palm oil, on the other hand, has been dealt an unjustified blow with outright banning of its qualification for subsidies under RED ll based on the strange notion of ILUC.

ILUC A Colonial Science

Indirect Land Use Change or ILUC has been the main argument used by the EU to disqualify palm oil as a sustainable feedstock for biofuels.

ILUC is a strange concept that suggested higher usage of palm oil by the EU will lead to higher deforestation in palm oil producing countries. The concept targets palm oil as it is seldom mentioned in the EU’s approach towards other feedstock for renewable energy. It is wonky science at best but since the EU has given it so much weight, let us have a look at what is happening in countries that export canola to the EU.

Canada continues to lead the world in deforestation. An explanation for the loss of forests according to official Canadian websites explain that:

“Deforestation in Canada is driven by demand for resource development, economic growth, and the need to build infrastructure. Efforts to reduce deforestation must therefore be balanced against other goals, such as expanding the economy, diversifying economic activities, and supporting community employment.

Reports on deforestation in Australia painted a gloomier picture that called out Australia as the only developed nation on the list of the world’s deforestation hotspots.

“But in Eastern Australia, agriculture is by far the biggest driver of deforestation. Eighty-five per cent of it is just for beef cattle pasture or for sheep pasture”

In light of poor health of the natural environment in canola producing countries and the high risks of extinctions of koalas in Australia and the number of species in Canada facing extinction, why should their canola qualify as “renewable” for the EU?

Palm oil producing countries can easily argue for the continued use of palm-oil based biofuels by the EU by using the same reasoning of canola exporting countries that any forest loss is due to tree plantations, expanding and diversifying economic activities and supporting community employment.

Palm oil producing countries can further the stakes by quoting ILUC and show that banning palm oil as a renewable source of energy will lead to more deforestation and emissions from canola producing countries. The reasoning behind ILUC is strange enough that this should work.

The preferential treatment shown to canola imports of the EU shows an abhorrent element of the ILUC concept that zeroes in on deforestation between 2008 and 2015. These were the most dynamic years for the development of palm oil producing countries as they matured with minimal assistance from foreign aid. This is how the deforestation in Indonesia or Malaysia should be seen. An investment of natural capital for self sufficiency which has managed to preserve over 50% of the forest canopies. This must be seen as a remarkable achievement when compared to countries that produce canola.

Fair Treatment for All Vegetable Oil Based Biofuels

This is a discussion that must take place at the EU ASEAN JWG as it is supposed to look at the issues surrounding all vegetable oils. Sustainable feedstock for renewable energy is a complex issue that will have no ready answers in the short term. Yet there is no time to lose in the global fight against climate change!

To simplify matters for the EU ASEAN JWG, one of the most readily available solutions is to accept the German based ISCC system to qualify vegetable oils under the EU’s REDD ll.

Both Australia and Canada have been exporting canola to the EU for biofuels as they “meet greenhouse gas emissions savings requirement” as certified by the ISCC. This is no different from ISCC certified palm oil. The ISCC has actually voiced their disagreement to a ban on palm oil biofuels warning that:

“Banning palm oil for energy uses offers no contribution to the fundamental objective of moving towards a sustainable agriculture whether for palm oil.”

The EU can and must lead a charge towards sustainable agriculture globally. Palm oil producing countries have proven themselves as willing supporters despite the existing discrimination against palm oil as the countries share the same goals and visions of a sustainable planet.