According to leaked data from the European Commission obtained by EuroActiv, greenhouse gas emissions from some biofuels are higher than those from fossil fuels, when Indirect Land Usage Change (ILUC) is factored in.
ILUC happens when forests and wetlands are cleared to compensate for lands taken to grow biofuels elsewhere.
One recent report predicted that all of Malaysia’s tropical peatswamp forests would be destroyed by the end of the decade because of ILUC - with alarming consequences for greenhouse gas emissions - unless the expansion of palm oil production was halted.
To measure the climate impact of fuels, Brussels favours assigning default values based on a calculation of their full lifecycle emissions, hence the debate over ILUC factors and biofuels.
In its recent review of the Fuel Quality Directive, the EU proposed a default value of 107g CO2 equivalent per megajoule of fuel (CO2/mj) for oil from tar sands, as compared to 87.5g CO2/mj for crude oil, reflecting the greater environmental harm that its production causes.
Yet while advanced ‘second generation’ biofuels comfortably outperform fossil fuels in the EU’s new data, palm oil is ascribed a value of 105g, soybean 103g, rapeseed 95g, and sunflower 86g, once ILUC is factored in.
The Guardian has a graph reflecting the data:
The figures showing palm oil biodiesel and soybean biodiesel being almost as polluting as the tar sands deals a severe blow to the biofuels industry.
...industry and civil society sources described the data as credible and in line with other studies. One said it would sound a death knell for the biodiesel industry, if published.
“I think the science has proved clearly that because of the link to deforestation in places such as South East Asia, a lot of the biodiesels have significantly negative impacts on the climate,” Robbie Blake, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told EurActiv.
The Guardian adds:
Palm oil biodiesel also received another blow on Friday, with the US Environmental Protection Agency suggesting it fails to meet the US requirement of emitting at least 20% less carbon than diesel from crude oil.
Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner, at Friends of the Earth Europe, told me: "It's getting quite indisputable that the use of soy or palm oil to fuel our cars is even dirtier than conventional fossil fuels. Forests in Asia and South America are being destroyed by the expansion of plantations to meet the European market. It's a delusion for politicians to think that biodiesel will solve climate change."