Hundreds of millions of tonnes of palm oil look set to be pumped into Britain’s vehicles despite scientific evidence showing that chopping down rainforests to make way for plantations exacerbates climate change, according to a leaked report.
The European Commission is planning to increase the amount of palm oil used in cars and power stations under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which is intended to reduce greenhouse gases, suggests the document.
A loophole in the draft communication from Brussels on implementation of the directive would allow almost all palm oil currently produced to be used in vehicles on British roads.
The development – which campaigners warned have would lead to fresh bouts of forest destruction in Asia to meet growing global demand for the oil – comes after an intense campaign of lobbying in Brussels by Malaysian producers who feared the EU would ban imports of palm oil for energy.
Britons use 50 billion litres of transport fuel a year, 2.7 per cent of which came from biofuels in 2008-09. Palm oil, which is primarily used in food and household products, already controversially forms part of that fuel mix.
The Government says it is keen to avoid use of environmentally damaging materials but admits there is insufficient data about the provenance of 42 per cent of transport biofuel used in the UK. Under the RED, passed last year, Britain and other EU states are required to source 10 per cent of petrol and diesel in road transport from renewable sources. Part of that will be accounted for by electrical vehicles but the majority is expected to come from plant-based fuels such as rapeseed, soy, palm and sugar cane.
The EC document ostensibly protects wildlife areas that could grow these plants by banning member states from sourcing fuel from greenhouse gas-sequestering grasslands, wetlands and forests. But, in a crucial exemption, the protection does not apply to habitats changed before January 2008, meaning the vast majority of palm oil produced may be used, even though much of it comes from plantations that have replaced forests in the past 15 years.