Biofuels produced from palm oil grown in tropical peatlands are a significant source of greenhouse gases. This is the finding of a new study done for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) which, if taken on board by the EU, would disqualify biofuels from palm oil sources from being counted towards the EU's renewable fuels target.
The research, carried out at the University of Leicester in Great Britain, says palm oil produced in peatland areas generates 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year over a 50-year period, nearly double the previous estimate of 50 tonnes. This is because of greenhouse gases released during the drainage of peat soils, which is needed for palm oil cultivation. The EU's renewable energy directive requires an emissions assessment over 20 years, in which case the annual figure is 106 tonnes.
The growing market for palm oil has been largely based around non-transport uses, with biofuels currently making up only a tiny fraction of total palm oil production. But the palm oil industry sees the EU renewable energy requirement as creating a huge boost in demand for their products, either for biodiesel made from palm oil or due to increased demand for food.
T&E policy officer Nusa Urbancic said: 'Although EU sustainability criteria effectively prevent biofuels from drained peatlands from being counted towards the renewable fuels target, these emissions still occur indirectly due to increased demand for palm oil. This is why the Commission must ensure that it addresses indirect land-use change with feedstock-specific factors that fully include emissions from peat oxidation in its evaluation of the indirect impacts from biofuels production. This is a crucial step for the EU if it is serious about supporting only those biofuels that are good for the climate.'
An ICCT spokesperson said: 'Recognising that emissions are larger than previously thought will help regulators such as the US Environment Protection Agency, the European Commission, and the California Air Resources Board to identify which biofuels are likely to lead to sustainable greenhouse gas reductions.'
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