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  • RED is Leaking Palm Oil

    2010 - 02.10

    A leaked report from the European Commission revealed that under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) they are planning to increase the amount of palm oil used in cars and power stations. The document suggests that this action will reduce the greenhouse gases. In reality scientific research shows that chopping down rainforests to make way for plantations intensifies climate change.

    The report highlighted a loophole regarding the implementation of the directive which would allow all palm oil currently produced to be used in vehicles on British roads. The implication being: that hundreds of millions of tonnes of palm oil are set to be pumped into Britain’s vehicles. Already Britain uses 50 billion litres of transport fuel per year, 2.7% of which came from biofuels in 2008-09.

    This development has arisen out of the fight between environmentalists who warn that in order to meet global demand palm oil production will lead to more forest destruction in Asia and Malaysian producers who rely on the palm oil industry to stay in business.

    Under the RED Britain and the other EU member states have to source 10% of petrol and diesel in road transport from renewable sources. The majority of that will be accounted for by plant based fuels such as soy, palm, sugar cane and rapeseed.

    The EC document bans member states from sourcing fuel from greenhouse gas sequestering grasslands, wetlands and forests. However that protection does not extend to habitats changed before January 2008. This means that the vast majority of palm oil produced can be used even though the majority of it comes from plantations that have replaced forests in the last 15 years.

    Palm oil can only be grown in tropical climates such as Malaysia, Indonesia, West Africa and the Amazon in Brazil as they need the strong carbon credentials of these countries’ rainforests.

    The two main producers of palm oil – Malaysia and Indonesia, have forests rich in wildlife. However when forest is converted into monoculture plantations 90% of the flora and fauna is lost.

    Friends of the Earth’s agri-fuels campaign coordinator Adrian Bebb said: “I know the Commission officials and they’re trying to get palm oil in.” Robert Palgrave of Biofuelswatch said: “If you expand the palm oil business for food, fuel or cosmetics, more forest will be destroyed.”

    It seems to me that the sensible solution is to take land that is already degraded and plant forest plantations on those instead. This preserves the natural forest and gives value to land that was essentially barren before.

    According to a Department of Transport study, palm oil is forecast to account for 45% of Europe’s biodiesel by 2020. The EC declined to comment on the leaked document.

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