A committee of the European Parliament is calling on the European Commission to phase out the use of palm oil in biodiesel production by 2020 to combat deforestation.

The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety voted on 11 March in favour of a report stating that, as the world’s third largest market for palm oil, the EU should do more to ensure the oil it consumes does not contribute to deforestation in producing countries.

According to the committee report, companies trading in palm oil “are generally unable to prove with certainty that the palm oil in their supply is not linked to deforestation”.

Cultivation of palm oil had been the cause of 20% of all deforestation globally within the last 20 years, the report said.

This was despite the fact that palm oil could be cultivated responsibly, could make “a real contribution” to economic development, and that voluntary certification schemes, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), existed.

However, while the committee welcomed the development of such schemes, it expressed its disappointment with their failure in prohibiting their members from converting rainforest or peat lands into palm plantations.

Additionally, the report found that the voluntary schemes failed to limit greenhouse gas emissions and prevented forest and peat fires, which had turned Indonesia into “one of the greatest contributors” to global warming.

In 2014, 45% of all European palm oil imports were used in fuel production – marking an increase of 34% from 2010 – and estimates say that demand for palm oil will double by 2050, according to the report.

US Department of Agriculture data suggests similar numbers, as according to its annual oilseed and products report published in April 2016, the EU’s industrial palm oil use was 3.2M tonnes in 2015, out of which 46.8% – or 1.5M tonnes – was used for biofuel production.

“The EU and its member states, as actors in this situation, should face up to their responsibility and take steps to improve the current, desperate situation,” the committee said in the report, while at the same time recognising that the issue was highly complex and that all players in the palm oil industry should bear responsibility.

In addition to phasing out palm oil use in biofuel production, the committee also called on the European Commission to increase import duties on palm oil that directly linked to deforestation and to launch information campaigns to provide consumers with further information on palm oil cultivation.

The report also urged palm oil cultivators to use the ‘High Carbon Stock’ (HCS) approach when developing plantations.

The Malaysia-based HCS Approach Steering Group Secretariat describes HCS as a methodology, which distinguishes forest areas for protection from degraded lands with low carbon and biodiversity values that may be developed.