Broken biofuel policies still driving rainforest destruction

Revised EU sustainability guidelines too weak and not the full picture

Press release - June 10, 2010
Brussels, International — New sustainability guidelines for biofuels in Europe do not go far enough to prevent a dramatic increase in deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. The guidelines and an associated certification scheme only address part of the picture, with indirect land-use change impacts of biofuel production still not properly addressed.

Plantations are not forets! Growing palm oil for biofuels in Indonesia's Kampar peninsula drives peatland forest destruction.

The revised guidelines, being published this morning by the European Commission, are problematic because:

  • A loophole allowing conversion of rainforest to palm oil plantations has been closed, which is a great achievement. However, the guidelines are still too weak to prevent conversion of some non-pristine forests.
  • Emissions from some process plants will remain exempted from the carbon footprint assessment of biofuel until 2013.
  • It is uncertain how proposed safeguards for peatland will work and be monitored, despite their critical importance.[1]

Greenpeace EU forest policy director Sebastien Risso said: "Dirty biofuels exacerbate climate change and lead to the destruction of rainforests. Under the current scheme, Europeans wanting to cut their carbon footprint could actually make the problem worse by using biofuels. The worst biofuels are actually more polluting than petrol and there is a very real risk that Europe's cars will run on forest destruction and animal extinction"

In its guidelines, the Commission did not set out to tackle a major problem with biofuels - the indirect land-use change (ILUC) impacts.[2] These are perhaps the most dangerous problem of biofuels and a major concern highlighted by the OECD, UNEP and the European Commission Joint Research Centre.[3] If not properly regulated, ILUC impacts will continue causing major biodiversity loss and more greenhouse gas emissions.

Member states will tell the Commission how they intend to reach renewable targets for transport by the end of the month. If they want to avoid doing more harm than good, they should steer well clear of dirty biofuels. To do so, Greenpeace calls on member states to adopt stringent financial incentive policies to exclude biofuels that do not provide real benefits for emissions reduction and biodiversity conservation. When formulating their national plans before the end of the month, member states should instead prioritise public transport and electric cars over dirty biofuels.

Other contacts:

Sebastien Risso – Greenpeace EU forest policy director:
+32 (0)2 274 1 901, +32 (0)496 12 70 09 (mobile),
Sini Harkki - Greenpeace Nordic forest campaigner:
+358 (0)50 582 1107 (mobile),
Jack Hunter – Greenpeace EU media officer:
+32 (0)2 274 1915, +32 (0)47 698 8584 (mobile),


[1] In Indonesia, where the palm oil industry is expanding rapidly, 1.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions are already released every year by the degradation and burning of peatlands alone – that amounts to a staggering 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Hooijer, A, M Silvius, H Wösten, H and S Page (2006) PEAT-CO2, Assessment of CO2 emissions from drained peatlands in SE Asia, Delft Hydraulics report Q3943 7, December 2006.
[2] As agricultural land is set aside to grow biofuels, pressure grows to cut down forests to grow food. The increase in European biodiesel demand could lead to the loss of vast areas of forests. The Commission is expected to make a policy decision over how to manage ILUC impacts by the end of the year.
[3] For example, see:
- Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development / Richard Doornbosch and Ronald Steenblik. “Biofuels: Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?” 12 September 2007.
- United Nations Environment Programme (2009) Towards sustainable production and use of resources: Assessing Biofuels.
- European Commission Joint Research Centre (2008) Biofuels in the European Context: Facts and Uncertainties.