Biodiesel tested: How Europe’s biofuels policy threatens the climate

Publication - July 19, 2011
Greenpeace tested diesel at filling stations across Europe in 2011, discovering worrying amounts of rainforest-destroying biofuels.

Greenpeace took 92 diesel samples in nine EU countries, findinghigh rates of the most harmful biofuels.

Countries around Europe are steadily increasing the share of biofuels in transport fuel to meet EU renewable energy targets. At the same time, there is ongoing debate around the sustainability of certain biofuels, due to impacts on land-use change caused by their expansion.

A European Commission study to be published shortly is expected to reveal that greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels made from oilseed crops such as rapeseed, soy and palm oil, in particular, may exceed emissions from fossil fuels. This is because of emissions resulting from ‘indirect land use change’: the conversion of land-types that store carbon, such as forests, grasslands and peatlands, into farmland to grow crops for food, feed and fibres that have been displaced by fuel crops.

Meanwhile, plans drawn up by EU member states indicate that they intend to meet the renewable energy target in the transport sector for 2020 largely through the increased use of biodiesel – diesel fuel derived from vegetable or animal sources.

Already, much of the diesel sold at filling stations around Europe incorporates biodiesel. In May and June, Greenpeace bought diesel samples at filling stations in nine EU countries, and sent them for laboratory testing to identify the source of the biodiesel element. Most of the biodiesel, according to the analysis, was derived from the very crops associated with high greenhouse gas emissions due to indirect land use change: rapeseed, soy and palm oil.

It appears that, despite its attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the EU is actually promoting the adoption of the most climate-damaging biofuels, undermining its own policies.

As the European Commission prepares to review the evidence related the sustainability of biofuels, Greenpeace argues that biofuels that offer little or no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels should not count towards renewable energy targets or qualify for incentives. We urge the EU to introduce legislation requiring energy suppliers to reflect the climate impact of indirect land-use change in the calculation of a biofuel’s carbon footprint. Only correct accounting for greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels, including those associated with indirect land use change, would allow the necessary distinction between biofuels that reduce emissions and those that do not.

Biodiesel tested, how Europe’s biofuels policy threatens the climate