Visegrad countries united against palm oil
In September 2017, the Visegrad group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia), as well as Bulgaria and Romania, signed a joint declaration urging the European Commission to reconsider its proposal to gradually phase out first generation biofuels after 2020 and think about the consequences.
“Especially in light of current and expected crop surpluses in Europe, efforts to phase out biofuels produced from agricultural crops will adversely impact European energy security, will reduce European feed security, will result in even lower rural incomes, will force investors to flee Europe, in addition to making the attainment of climate goals more difficult,” the EU agriculture ministers of these countries stated.
Maroš Stano, the spokesperson of the Slovak Ministry of Economy, which is responsible for the country’s energy policy, told EURACTIV Slovakia that Bratislava was in favour of a post-2021 phase-out of biofuels based on palm oil.
In this issue, Slovakia’s position is in line with the proposal of the European Parliament. Slovakia has promoted the ban on using palm oil as biofuel already during the negotiations on the renewable energy directive in the EU Council, with the main reasons being its environmental impact and its questionable sustainability.
“Instead, we promote the use of the so-called low ILUC risk biofuels, which fulfil the strictest emissions-saving criteria. At the same time, we support the conservation of the 1G limit for crop-based biofuels at 7% by 2030. Biofuels produced from agricultural or feed crops as well as the residua from the corresponding biofuel production can be used as feed for the livestock.”
The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade stressed that using palm oil to produce biofuels is not desirable for the environment because this product can be grown only in tropical forests and there is massive forest cutting from South America toward Africa and Asia.
“Loss of tropical rainforest harms climatic balance and it has an impact on the whole ecosystems. What’s more, palm oil is not really suitable for biofuels due to its physical characteristics – it can clog the fuel filter. According to some studies it has also higher CO2 emissions than standard fossil fuels,” it said.
In the Czech Republic, palm oil is not used for biofuels production. But some of the biofuels components are imported to the country (such as FAME) and there is no information available if those components are made from palm oil or not.
As far as the crop-based biofuels are concerned, the government insists that the share of crop-based biofuels in transport should not be lower than 7% and claimed that the technology is not still there for the second generation biofuels.
“Maintaining 7 % of biofuels is important for the protection of investments made before and also to keep jobs in this sector. Lastly, there are not very developed technologies to produce advanced biofuels in the EU.”
Budapest has a similar line, as it supports a gradual phase-out of non-sustainable, high ILUC biodiesel feedstock like palm oil.
According to Hungary, the cap of sustainable crop-based biofuels cannot be lower than 7%, otherwise, it would endanger investment stability.
“We also think that low ILUC risk fuels should be exempted from the limitation, be accountable to the transport target above the 7%,” a Hungarian diplomat told EURACTIV.com.
As for the advanced biofuels, Hungary is not willing to agree to any obligatory sub target.
“The availability of advanced feedstock and the production capacity is still very limited, the technology is not available on a commercial scale, and there are other alternative solutions which contribute much more effectively to the decarbonisation of transport. A binding target for advanced biofuels will result in extra costs for some countries, which undermines efforts to achieve the common goal to further promote renewable energy in a cost-efficient way. We suggest continuing the current indicative framework and incentivising advanced biofuels with multiplicator.”
EURACTIV also contacted the Polish permanent representation for a comment but no reply was provided by the time of this article’s publication. However, it is highly probable that it will follow the Visegrad line.
France against the palm oil ban
France does not support the ban on palm oil.
EURACTIV France reported that Macron’s government had written to EU lawmakers to express its opposition to the compromise. The French government stressed that the measure could be attacked at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and therefore Paris defended the contribution of palm oil to the EU’s objectives.
Experts say it is the worst of all biofuels for the environment due to the land use change it drives in producer countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, where carbon and biodiversity-rich rainforests are being cut down to make way for plantations.
“It’s a meaningless argument. The ban on palm oil does not target one country in particular so it cannot be taken to the WTO,” said French Green MEP Yannick Jadot.
France’s last-minute move does not appear to be driven by ecological concern: in the south of France, one refinery belonging to oil giant Total is particularly profitable thanks to palm oil.
The financial interests of France’s oil producers appear to take precedence over the country’s farmers, who would be glad to see an end to palm oil imports that compete with their own oilseed crops.
In Germany, which is still in talks on forming a new government, the position is not yet clear.
EURACTIV Germany reported that the German biofuels industry supported the promotion of biofuels from waste and residues proposed by the Council of Ministers, but strictly rejects a 2030 reduction in the use of biofuels from cultivated biomass. Neither fuels from waste and residues nor electromobility could fill the resulting gap until 2030.
“The compromise of 7 percent for biofuels from cultivated biomass, which was decided in 2015, must, therefore, be maintained, at least until 2030,” said Artur Auernhammer, member of the Bundestag (CSU-Bavaria) and Chairman of the Federal Bioenergy Association (BBE).
Environmental Action Germany (DUH) welcomes the ban on palm oil in biofuels but criticises the use of biofuels from vegetable raw materials by 2030. DUH calls on the federal government to actively support the parliamentary decisions in trilogues with the Commission and the Council and to promote climate protection nationally with the Building Energy Act.
“Palm oil does not belong in the tank, so the ban is a welcome first step to reducing the demand for palm oil in the EU and countering further depletion of tropical rainforests,” said Sascha Müller-Kraenner, DUH's Chief Executive Officer. However, the DUH critically assesses that the use of biofuels from vegetable raw materials should continue until 2030. The DUH calls for the protection of climate and nature, that biofuels with food ingredients are no longer recognized as renewable energy.
Italy: sustainable palm oil
Italian sources told EURACTIV that Rome does not support the palm oil ban voted by the Parliament.
“Our position is supporting the use of sustainable palm oil, in order to protect investments and to take into due consideration the potential detrimental impact on trade relations with producing countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which have already envisaged the possibility of applying countermeasures in several sectors,” the sources said.
On the use of biofuels, Italy’s position is in line with the Council's general approach, which sets at 7% the maximum share of energy use from first-generation biofuels in transport, and provides only the option (not the obligation) for member states to pursue more ambitious objectives in the oil sector.
Greece: At least 7% crop-based biofuels
Greek diplomatic sources told EURACTIV that Athens could not accept the cap on crop-based biofuels at the 2017 level, as the EU Parliament suggested.
“The Council's position as it was agreed on last December (7% cap) is the least that we can accept. The last 5 years there has been made significant investments in this area that should be protected. Furthermore, EP's proposal will have a significant impact on EU farmers. In addition, the exclusion of crop-based biofuels will make extremely difficult and expensive the national effort to fulfill our obligations.”
The sources explained that on palm oil, Athens shares the concerns that it is the highest emitting biofuel in the market today as well as it has a heavy negative impact on rainforests in some areas of the planet.
“Taking the above into consideration, as well as the fact that tackling climate change is our main goal when discussing RES and biofuels, we are not supportive of the use of palm oil. During discussions with the Parliament our starting negotiation point will be to keep the Council's position as it was agreed on last December, but probably we will not fight against the Parliament's proposal.
Belgium has not taken a specifical position on the matter of palm oil.
The country agreed with the general approach on the cap on crop-based biofuels as reached during the Energy Council of December 2017, i.e. a cap of 7% for first-generation biofuels.
The above-mentioned position was expressed by Minister Marghem during her intervention at the Energy Council.
The Spanish government defends the approach under which in 2030 the ceiling for first-generation agrofuels will be at 7%, against the 3.8% proposed by the Commission.
But in Spain, there is a business sector that invested in first-generation biofuel plants and now complains about the EU's change of direction.
Spanish media reports stressed that there seems to be a broad consensus among the 28 on the “7% limit” and it’s unlikely this is going to reopen”.
Sweden: Investor protection is important
The Swedish government does not have a firm position yet on the palm oil ban.
As far as the 7% crop-based biofuels cap, Swedes are fine with the Council’s proposal.
“Sweden has already hit the ceiling nationally, but the government is analysing the European Parliament’s proposal from a European perspective. Investor protection is important in this regard,” government sources told EURACTIV.
Regarding advanced biofuels, Stockholm agrees with the Council position but is flexible towards the European Parliament position.
However, another source told EURACTIV that Sweden wants the “ambition to be as high as possible.”