From: Rhett Butler, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published September 10, 2013 09:52 AM

Europe importing more palm oil for biofuels, raising risks for rain forests

Palm oil imports into Europe for use as car fuel increased by more than three-fold since 2006, raising concerns than renewable fuels targets may be contributing to deforestation, displacing marginalized communities, and driving greenhouse gas emissions in Southeast Asia, finds a new study published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).


The report, published today, finds that 80 percent of the European Union's increase in palm oil consumption between 2006 and 2012 was due to increased use for biofuel production. Use in food and cosmetics remain almost flat during the period.

Overall palm oil consumption by the EU-27 jumped 41 percent from 4.51 million tons in 2006 to 6.38 million tons in 2012. Palm oil consumption for biodiesel surged 365 percent from 402,000 tons to 1.87 million tons.

The Netherlands, the largest palm oil consumer in Europe, saw its use of palm oil for biofuels spike 9500 percent from 5,000 tons to 480,000 tons over the period.

At 300,000 metric tons in 2012, Germany is the second largest European consumer of biofuels for biodiesel consumption, followed by Italy (220,000 tons), Spain (200,000 tons), and Finland (200,000 tons). But Britain's palm oil consumption dropped 31 percent during the period.

The findings suggest that producers in Malaysia and Indonesia are making inroads in a critical market for biofuels. The E.U. has mandated that at least ten percent of the European fuel market for transport be met by renewable energy sources by 2020. But a proposal — up for vote Wednesday — would cut that target in half, limiting the amount of biodiesel that can be produced from food-based crops.

The numbers also indicate that lower palm oil prices may be creating new markets for the vegetable oil, which is typically used as a cooking oil; a fat in processed foods, soap, and cosmetics; and for industrial purposes. Until recently, high palm oil prices made conversion for biofuels an unattractive option, but with prices down roughly 40 percent off their highs, using palm oil as a feedstock for biodiesel is now lucrative proposition.

More than 85 percent of palm oil — which is produced from the fruit of the oil palm — is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Much of the crop's expansion has taken place at the expense of wildlife-rich rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands, making palm oil a target for environmental campaigners, who see it as a potential threat to endangered species, climate, and traditional communities.

Read more at MONGABAY.COM.

Palm oil fruit image via Shutterstock.

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