Climate Change: Cooking Oil Imports May Accelerate Deforestation

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While governments all over the world are faced with the arduous task of cutting carbon emissions from the transport industry, they need to be vigilant to ensure that the solutions do not lead to more problems.

An increasingly popular method to address the issue of carbon emissions resulting from fuel is the use of fuels made from crops such as rapeseed or soya as a replacement for petrol and diesel originating from fossil fuels.  More specifically, used cooking oil (UCO) has presented itself as a more environmentally friendly feedstock for “biodiesel,” as it is called.

Although using this alternative base for fuels does not eliminate the carbon footprint left by the transport industry, the growing plants mop up some of the C02 emissions which means it is a move in the right direction.

ID 20866799 © Tonny Anwar | Dreamstime.com

However, while UCO is deemed to be a low-risk fuel feedstock which has led to the EU and the UK awarding double carbon credits to fuel producers who use UCO for the production of biofuels – driving up the demand for it,  this may be encouraging greed and even fraud as reported by Matt McGrath in his article on UCO imports and green fuel.

An investigation by the National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) into this “green fuel” source has reported that between 2011 and 2016, the use of UCO as a biofuel base jumped up 360%. This increase is driving the import of UCO from places outside of the EU and UK in order to meet the demand.  The issue is that there is no control over the sustainability of imported sources.

It also reports a significant correlation between UCO exported from China and palm oil imported into China during the same period.  In China, UCO has been deemed safe for animal consumption and has played an essential role in bulking up the livestock feeds in order to meet demand, especially in the pork industry.

Although the above correlation may not be indicative of causation, it is, unfortunately, possible that unscrupulous providers could sell off the more profitable UCO and replace it with cheaper, imported palm oil for animal feeds.  This means that the demand for UCO needed to produce biofuels is inadvertently driving the production of more palm oil.

According to the report, palm oil which has low production costs coupled with high yields has assumed priority as a source of edible oil and its production demand has led to increased deforestation, specifically of tropical rain-forest.  Increased demand for palm oil as a replacement for the UCO that has been sold off would, therefore, lead to even more deforestation, meaning that a worthwhile initiative is actually achieving the opposite of its intended goal.

The conclusion is that stricter measures need to be taken to ensure that oil imported from outside the EU or UK is meeting acceptable sustainability as well as quality levels.

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