Palm-oil a false dawn …

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It’s hard to argue that the people behind the original rise of Palm Oil as a renewable energy source of the future were anything but well meaning.

But the truth is they are steering a huge juggernaut of hurt up a very narrow blind alley.

“Clearing forests to expand oil palm plantations is increasing carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also having a devastating impact on forest communities by trashing the very resources they rely on for food and shelter.

Palm-oil production has reached record highs in Malaysia and increasing numbers of so-called third-world countries are turning to it as a way of boosting their economies; of feeding and clothing their people. Yet despite its claims as a clean energy source, it is having a devastating impact on the fight to restore carbon balance to our environment.

November 9th saw almost 2,000 delegates attending the four-day International Palm Oil Congress 2009 (PIPOC 2009).

The bi-annual event. organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), is the world’s largest palm oil event containing everything one could possibly want or need to know on technological breakthrough and advancements in the oil palm sector.

The theme of PIPOC 2009 is ironically “Palm Oil – Balancing Ecologics with Economics”, focussing on palm oil as the powerhouse economy.

Ironic because the mass deforestation driven by the hunger for land is contributing to climate change in a big way.

As an example of how counterproductive this well-meaning approach is, consider the UK Government-led changes that saw biofuels being added to the UK fuel mix in April 2008.

According to Friends of the Earth the resultant increase in biofuel usage produced double the CO2 emissions of the fossil fuels they replaced. The equivalent to putting half a million extra cars on the road (April 2009, FoE research)

Commenting on a recent decision by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) not to include greenhouse gas emissions standards in its certification criteria, Friends of the Earth’s biofuels campaigner Kenneth Richter said:

“By refusing to bring greenhouse gas emission standards into their certification scheme, palm oil producers have themselves answered the question of whether palm oil can be a sustainable biofuel – with a resounding no.

“Clearing forests to expand oil palm plantations is increasing carbon dioxide emissions. It’s also having a devastating impact on forest communities by trashing the very resources they rely on for food and shelter.

“Europe’s tactic of relying on certification schemes such as the RSPO to ensure the sustainability of biofuels is in tatters.

“Biofuels are not the answer to our energy woes – the EU target should be scrapped. Rich countries must focus their attention on developing clean, green transport alternatives to cars, such as fast and affordable rail services and better facilities for cycling and walking.”

But like it or not, Palm Oils are big business.

Your last weekly shop? Chances are somewhere between 10 and 15% of it will have involved palm oil at some stage of its processing. We unwittingly consume 11kg of the stuff annually as it lurks undetected in products labelled as vegetable oil if it’s even mentioned at all.

Unilever accounts for around 8% of the global production, using it in products such as cosmetics, chocolate, margarine and even baby milk. Yet I’m unclear how they reconcile the environmental damage inflicted by palm oil production with their literature which claims,

‘Sustainable agriculture is productive, competitive and efficient, while at the same time protecting and improving the natural environment and conditions of the local communities.’

According to UK Department for Transport estimates by 2020 45 per cent of Europe’s biodiesel could come from Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil, equalling additional demand for palm oil of approximately 14 billion litres (source: “Global and EU Biofuel Scenarios to 2020” presentation, Taro Hallworth, Department for Transport).

Can you visualise how much land that takes? Now cover it with trees. Now chop each and every one down.

Palm oil producers already know they cannot meet EU minimum greenhouse gas saving criteria for biofuels (as stated under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The EU minimum is 35% rising to 60% in 2017, by default palm oil biofuel manage just 19%.

As usual greed is now driving the agenda. The environment is now just a useful tinge of green to lull the complacent into a false sense of security.

Don’t sleep walk into oblivion. Think, decide and challenge. It’s time to put this onto the agenda of your MP.

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