A report by the Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) on the impact of projected levels of biofuel consumption based on palm oil and soy oil concludes that palm oil and soy oil are unsuitable as biofuel feedstocks due to their link to deforestation and biodiversity loss. It recommends that consumption should be phased out as soon as possible.

At the beginning of the century, policy makers in Europe saw the use of biofuels as the magic bullet to replace fossil fuels and address global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They developed fiscal and tax incentives to promote the production of biofuel based on palm oil, soy oil and, to a lesser extent, canola oil.

The recent RFN report concludes that the net effect on greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity due to deforestation resulting from the expansion of oil palm and soy plantations has been negative. It therefore recommends phasing out of incentives and a reduction in biofuel consumption. The report concludes that “current global ambition for increased use of biofuels, given the lack of limitations on the use of high deforestation-risk feedstock, is likely to drive increased deforestation and associated increases in greenhouse gas emissions.”

On the basis of the projections developed in the report the author concludes as follows. “By 2030, the expected additional deforestation due to palm oil use for biofuels is between 1.1 million hectares and 5.4 million hectares, equivalent to somewhere between the size of Cyprus and that of Croatia. The expected additional deforestation due to soy use for biofuels is between 460 thousand hectares and 1.8 million hectares, equivalent to somewhere between the area of Mallorca and that of Wales.”

Use of biofuel was seen at one points as a possible strategy for reducing airplane emissions but the report recommends that “the aviation industry should focus on the development of advanced aviation biofuels from wastes and residues” and that “policy makers and the aviation industry should prioritise investment in other emission reduction technologies such as electrical planes and electrofuels, and consider demand management approaches.”

Finally, the report recommends that the EU support improved tropical forest governance, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and the South American countries, to break the link between vegetable oil production and environmental destruction.