In 2017, Indonesia, Malaysia and Colombia are among those to have then protested to the former European parliament president Antonio Tajani that the motion up for debate contains “trade discriminatory language”.
“The imposition of both tariff and other non-tariff trade barriers, or for an outright EU ban on imports of biodiesel derived from palm oil, could provide advantages to the use of other raw materials, entailing direct discrimination against palm oil,” they say in a letter seen by Climate Home.
Almost three quarters of the renewable fuel mandate is expected to be met by first generation biofuels: those produced directly from food crops. While the EU has proposed halving its share by 2030, the question remains of what will fill the gap. The existing direct discrimination would be a violation of World Trade Organisation rules.
Yet a target to source 10% of Europe’s transport fuels from renewable sources is driving demand. Between 2010 and 2014, use of palm oil for biofuels surged to account for 45% of the commodity’s imports to Europe.
Unfortunately, the coverage has simply repeated the reductive language of the executive summary, instead of examining the actual findings. Many of the findings in the report should be considered as positive for the palm oil sector, particularly the conclusions. However, there are two major problems that plague the report.
First, there are numerous scientific errors that punctuate the report, as outlined below.
Second, the IUCN is ‘pulling its punches’ and it seems to be doing this to avoid offending activist NGOs. The IUCN seems almost embarrassed by the conclusions it has reached.
Because its conclusions go against the overly simplistic and irresponsible approach of many NGOs.
The following points should be noted.
On the areas of oil palm under cultivation, the IUCN states that phasing out and replacing oil palm with other oilseed crops will significantly increase the global area used for production of other vegetable oils, leading to potentially more significant social and environmental impacts. Meeting growing vegetable oil demand will have less impact on biodiversity if it comes from higher-yielding oil palm cultivation.
On deforestation, it states that:
- The larger drivers of deforestation are cattle ranging, and local and subsistence agriculture and not oil palm cultivation;
- In Africa and Asia, local and subsistence agriculture is a larger driver of deforestation than commercial, industrial-scale agriculture;
- Pulp and paper plantations, fire-induced deforestation, small-scale agriculture and especially hunting are main threats to orangutans as well.
On biodiversity, it states that:
- Oil palm may provide better habitat for local biodiversity compared to the other production systems it replaces;
- Lands previously planted with oil palm have the capacity to recover and support additional biodiversity.
On carbon emissions, it notes that:
- The potential to achieve carbon positive outcomes in the longer term is substantially greater than for other oil crops that replace forest as, despite its longer maturation phase, oil palm requires an order of magnitude less land to produce equivalent amounts of biofuel;
And the report also draws a number of other conclusions around what works in the field. For example, the imposition of blanket restrictions on palm oil imports provides no incentives for best practice.
Similarly, it points out clearly that through certification, the palm oil sector has done its part of the job regarding environmental protections and the other sectors should now do the same (other oil crops, mining etc.). Otherwise there is a risk of redistribution of the responsibility for deforestation. There are remaining knowledge gaps, related to socio-economic, cultural and financial impacts and also a need for further research in these areas.
Recently, Nurudeen Adeyemi noted on LinkedIn that, the Indonesia President, Joko Widodo asked stakeholders to speed up the mandatory proportion of diesel blended with crude palm oil (CPO) from 20 (B20) to 30% (B30) by January next year, and 50% (B50) by the end of 2020, then push up the domestic use of palm oil, so that Indonesia can have good bargaining positions, whether with the European Union or other parties that try to weaken its bargaining.
Also in Africa, Nigeria is the fifth-largest producers of oil palm and the government plans to invest $500m to increase Nigeria palm oil production from around 600,000 tons a year to 5 million tons a year by 2027, with this and the trade tension between Indonesia and EU, the Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria should be more proactive in sourcing for investors.
- To make clear justification out of the spat, the IUCN report notes that palm oil is here to stay.