EU May Classify Palm Oil Plantations as 'Forests' in Sustainable Biofuels Scheme


Oil palm fruit; photo: fitri agung via flickr.

A leaked draft version of a European Commission report on implementation of EU sustainable biofuels plans would permit classification of palm oil plantations as intact forest, EU Observer reports. The document says that while conversion of forest to corn, soy, or rapeseed would not be permitted, conversion to palm oil plantation would be. Here's the skewed logic in that:

Continuously forested areas are defined as areas where trees have reached, or can reach, at least heights of 5 meters, making up a crown cover of more than 30%.

Palm Oil Plantations May Look Like Forest, But They're Not
The absurdity of this definition of forest, when taken in the context of a palm oil plantation, cannot be overstated. Palm oil plantations may casually resemble forests but are essentially giant monocultures, harboring none of the great biodiversity present in intact forest, nor storing anywhere near the same amount of carbon. It would be laughable, this designation, if the consequences weren't so tragic.

Mongabay points out that the draft text does contain language about protecting biodiversity and avoiding conversion of lands with high carbon storage potential, but allowing conversion to palm oil plantations essentially throws all that out the door.

If We Can't Get Palm Oil Right...
As you might imagine, there has been loud outcry among green groups. Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe:

Palm oil plantations are one of the very worst example of the problems with biofuels...If the commission and member states can't even get it right when dealing with palm oil, it's a pretty bad sign for biofuels as a whole. The palm oil industry has done a very good job lobbying over the last while.

Palm Oil Industry Lobby Efforts Stepped Up
Since the story first broke in 2007, and came to a head in 2008, that biodiesel produced on palm oil plantations planted on converted rainforests can have far higher net carbon emissions than diesel produced from fossil fuels--not to mention more and more incidents of intimidation and violence against forest communities, and the impact on wildlife of these plantations--the Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil industries have gone on the lobbying offensive.

EU Observer notes that the Malaysian Palm Oil Council has employed international lobbyists GPlus to pressure the EU and its member states into embracing palm oil. The Indonesia Palm Oil Association has done similarly.

Here's the leaked document: On the practical implementation of the EU biofuels and bioliquids sustainability scheme and on counting rules for biofuels [PDF]

Read more: Mongabay and EU Observer
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Tags: Biodiversity | Biofuels | Global Climate Change | Indonesia | Malaysia | Renewable Energy