Oil palm concession in Indonesia, photo: Hayden via flickr.
Can we just all put palm oil biodiesel produced on deforested peatlands to rest already: A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme shows that biodiesel production under these conditions can result in greenhouse gas emissions 2000% higher than fossil fuels. Other biofuels fare much better however: The devil is really in the details of how and where biofuels are produced, the report says. Though chopping down rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia and replacing them with plantations results in monumental increases in carbon emissions compared to petrol-diesel, not to mention massive biodiversity problems, in other circumstances biofuels really live up to their carbon neutral claims.
Brazilian Sugarcane Ethanol = 70-100+% Emission Reduction
For example, producing ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil can lead to emissions reductions of 70% to "well over 100%" as compared to gasoline. Editorializing, conditions for workers are another issue... at least the fuel itself is clean if not always the labor practices.
But back to palm oil: The report does say however that when grown on abandoned or degraded land, palm oil can make a "positive contribution" to greenhouse gas emissions.
Biofuels Neither Panacea Nor Pariah
All in all, Executive Director of the UNEP Achim Steiner says a "more sophisticated debate [about biofuels] is urgently needed" and that "biofuels are neither panacea nor a pariah, but like all technologies they represent both opportunities and challenges."
Rainforest Destroying Palm Oil Hiding in Far More Products Than Previously Thought Palm Oil Plantations Store Even Less Carbon Than We Thought
Ethanol Now Fuels Over Half of Brazilian Cars & Light Vehicles
Sugarcane to be Turned into Conventional Diesel Fuel at Brazil Biorefinery