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Information about biofuels and bioenergy and peatlands.

News

2012

  • Historical Analysis and Projection of Oil Palm Plantation Expansion on Peatland in Southeast Asia, Report by Jukka Miettinen, Al Hooijer, Daniel Tollenaar, Sue Page, Chris Malins, Ronald Vernimmen, Chenghua Shi, and Soo Chin Liew; ICCT, February 2012. "Study using satellite mapping data of historical and projected rates at which oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia have expanded and will expand onto peat soils."
    • "This study demonstrates that the area of industrial oil palm (OP) plantations in the peatlands of insular Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia, except the Papua Provinces) has increased drastically over the past 20 years. From a small area in 1990 to at least 2.15 million hectares in 2010, expansion has affected every region of Malaysia and Indonesia reviewed here."
    • See also indirect land use change (ILUC). [1]
  • US Report Casts Doubt On Palm Fuel Benefits, 8 February 2012 by Jakarta Globe: "Indonesia has come under greater scrutiny over its policy to encourage palm oil development, following a report by US authorities that fuels derived from the commodity were not as environmentally friendly as initially believed."
    • "Last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency put out a notice that palm oil-derived biofuels such as biodiesel and renewable diesel fell short of its threshold for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings of 20 percent compared to regular diesel...."
    • "[The notice indicated that] 'palm oil production produces wastewater effluent that eventually decomposes, creating methane, a GHG with a high global warming potential'...and that 'expected expansion of palm plantations onto land with carbon-rich peat soils which would lead to significant releases of GHGs to the atmosphere.'"
    • "Meine van Noordwijk, chief science adviser at the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), said if more than 10 percent of palm oil originated from peatland plantations, then the EPA’s standards could not be met, regardless of all other efforts."
    • "In 2009, 22 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations were on peat soil, while in Malaysia the figure was 13 percent, according to the EPA...."
    • "In 2008 the EU banned biofuels from palm oil grown from deforesting tropical forests peatlands."[2]
  • Biofuel feedstocks must prove their green credentials, 12 January 2012 by Farmers Weekly: "Under the Renewable Energy Directive, which recently came into effect in the UK, mandatory sustainability and carbon targets have been set for all biofuels sold in Europe."
    • "This complex regulation requires biofuel manufacturers to demonstrate that the feedstocks they use comply with minimum land sustainability standards and give at least a 35% greenhouse gas emissions saving over their fossil fuel equivalent."
    • "The introduction of a 'sustainability' declaration on grain passports last season, combined with updates to the Red Tractor crops scheme...is designed to address the RED land sustainability requirement by guaranteeing crops are not grown on land with a high biodiversity value or high carbon value (eg peat land) and that the land meets cross-compliance requirements."
    • "But it is the GHG saving requirement of the RED that has generated some concern, because of the use of 'default values' when calculating the total carbon footprint of different feedstocks, says Ian Waller of Fivebargate consultants...."
    • "Regional carbon footprint numbers for different crops are defined in official reports for each country - the UK calculations were done for the Department for Transport by consultancy AEA. But this report (known as NUTS2) suggests only a few areas of the UK have a lower GHG footprint than the required RED threshold for oilseed rape, none of which are in prime arable regions. This casts a question mark over how easily oilseed rape from such regions could go into biofuel markets in the future, Mr Waller says."[3]

2011

  • EPA Issues Notice of Data Availability Concerning Renewable Fuels Produced from Palm Oil Under the RFS Program, December 2011 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) to release its lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis of palm oil used as a feedstock to produce biodiesel and renewable diesel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The release of the NODA provides the public an opportunity to comment on EPA’s analysis."
    • "EPA’s analysis shows that biodiesel and renewable diesel produced from palm oil do not meet the minimum 20% lifecycle GHG reduction threshold needed to qualify as renewable fuel under the RFS program...."
    • "EPA’s analysis highlights a number of key factors which contribute to the lifecycle emissions estimate for biofuels based on palm oil. For example, palm oil production produces wastewater effluent that eventually decomposes, creating methane, a GHG with a high global warming potential. Another key factor is the expected expansion of palm plantations onto land with carbon-rich peat soils which would lead to significant releases of GHGs to the atmosphere."
  • Palm Oil-Based Biofuels Should Not Be Called Green, New Study Claims, 5 December 2011 by Jakarta Globe: "The benefits of biofuels derived from palm oil have once again been brought into question following a new report that says the reduced emissions from burning the fuel are far outweighed by the clearing of peatland forests to grow the crop."
    • "It found that for palm oil in particular, the carbon debt, or net amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of using the crop as a biofuel, was the highest at 472.8 to 1,743.7 tons of CO2 per hectare."
    • "Louis Verchot, a Cifor researcher and co-author of the report, titled 'Implications of Biodiesel-Induced Land-Use Changes for CO2 Emissions: Case Studies in Tropical America, Africa, and Southeast Asia,' said palm oil-based biofuels that required the clearing of natural forest would never bring about a net emissions reduction."
    • "It also found that using biofuel from oil palms planted in peatlands required the longest period of time to repay the carbon debt, ranging from 206 to 220 years."
    • "The report, published in a special issue of the journal Ecology and Society, concluded that the outcomes 'raise serious questions about the sustainability of biofuel production.'"[4]
  • Carbon debt for some biofuels lasts centuries, 30 November 2011 by Mongabay.com: "An innovative new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) published in Ecology and Society has computed how long it would take popular biofuel crops to payoff the "carbon debt" of land conversion."
    • "While there is no easy answer—it depends on the type of land converted and the productivity of the crop—the study did find that in general soy had the shortest carbon debt, though still decades-long, while palm oil grown on peatland had the longest on average."
    • "Looking at three different types of biofuels in six countries, the study found that soy grown in parts of Brazil would require 30 years to make-up its carbon debt, which is as good as it gets. Palm oil would require 59-220 years, while jatropha would require 76-310 years, depending on the type of land that was converted."
    • "The study found that these three biofuel crops could only be deemed sustainable if grown on permanent crop or pastureland that was not already in use for growing foods, i.e. was degraded or abandoned, in order to prevent leakage."[5]
    • Download the report, Implications of Biodiesel-Induced Land-Use Changes for CO2 Emissions: Case Studies in Tropical America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
  • Nestle Buys Palm Oil Promises of  Sinar Mas, 16 September 2011 by Jakarta Globe: "Swiss food giant Nestle will resume purchases of palm oil from Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology following an 18-month halt after Smart made improvements to abide by Nestle’s guidelines for responsible environmental practices."
    • "The parent company of the palm oil producer known as Smart, Golden Agri Resources, has been working with environmental group The Forest Trust on the implementation of a Forest Conservation Policy."
    • "Nestle Indonesia’s spokesman Brata T. Hardjosubroto said that Smart, Indonesia’s second-biggest listed plantation operator, and GAR had been making continuous progress and demonstrated clear action to meet Nestle’s responsible sourcing guidelines."
    • "Nestle, which started construction on its $200 million factory in West Java on Monday, had dropped Smart as a supplier in March 2010."
    • "The decision came following campaigns by Greenpeace highlighting Nestle’s purchase of crude palm oil from Sinar Mas Group, which Greenpeace accuses of destruction of rainforests and peatlands to make way for new plantations."[6]
  • EU to delay action on biofuels' indirect impact, 8 September 2011 by Reuters: "The European Union's top climate and energy officials have agreed to delay by up to seven years rules that would penalize individual biofuels for their indirect climate impacts, details of the deal showed."
    • "The political compromise is designed to protect EU farmers' incomes and existing investments in the bloc's 17 billion euro-a-year ($24 billion) biofuel sector, while discouraging new investments in biofuels that do nothing to fight climate change."
    • "At issue is an emerging concept known as indirect land use change (ILUC), which states that if you divert food crops to biofuel production, someone, somewhere, will go hungry unless those missing metric tons of grain are grown elsewhere."
    • "If the crops to make up the shortfall are grown on new farmland created by cutting down rainforests or draining peat land, this can release enough climate-warming emissions to cancel out any theoretical emission savings from biofuels."[7]
  • Analysis: Land banks buffer Indonesian palm oil from forest ban, 25 May 2011 by Reuters: "Palm oil firms in Indonesia can overcome a two-year ban on forest clearing by tapping into land reserves, but they face bigger problems attracting the labor needed to work the soil and boost yields."
    • "The ban, effective from Friday, limits access to sensitive peat and forest regions and removes much of the uncertainty that had hung over the palm industry as Jakarta finalized the details."
    • "Plantation firms can now turn their attention to how best to bring massive land banks into rotation profitably and how to boost yields from existing acreage, industry experts said."
    • "To compete with soyoil suppliers for the top vegetable oil markets in India and China, the world's top palm oil producer needs to produce more palm oil per hectare."
    • "The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization data show Indonesian average, annual yields stand at 18 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches per hectare, lower than Malaysia's 20 tonnes in 2009 and keeping productivity in the region at 76 percent of estimated potential."[8]
  • World Bank lifts moratorium on palm oil investments, 1 April 2011 by Reuters: "The World Bank on Friday lifted an 18-month global moratorium on lending for new palm oil investments, endorsing a new strategy that focuses on supporting small farmers that dominate the sector."
    • "After meeting with 3,000 stakeholders, including farmers, environmental and social groups, and businesses, the World Bank's private-sector lender, the International Finance Corp (IFC), said palm oil investments could contribute to economic growth and reduce poverty, while also being eco-friendly."
    • "Palm oil employs over six million rural poor around the globe. Some 70 percent of palm oil production is used as staple cooking oil by the poor in Asia and Africa."
    • "Palm oil companies have said the industry has been unfairly vilified for cutting down forests and draining peatlands -- contributing to huge amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide entering into the atmosphere."[9]
  • Sustainable Biofuel Crops Project - Final Scientific and Progress Report (PDF File), 31 March 2011 by Conservation International: "The three-year Sustainable Biofuel Crops Project...was launched in early 2008" supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The overall goal of the project was to support the development of a sustainable global biofuels industry by ensuring that biofuel crop production is not a threat to biodiversity."
    • "The Sustainable Biofuel Crops Project included three components...and was implemented by teams working in the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Suriname."
    • "Major achievements of the Sustainable Biofuel Crops Project include:"
      • "[A]nalysis of areas of risk, and opportunity, for feedstock production...[in relation to] areas of importance for carbon sequestration and storage, water provisioning, biodiversity conservation, and staple food production".
      • Launch of the "Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) for Business website, which provides key decision-makers access to critical information on biodiversity priority sites to inform the decision-making processes and address any potential biodiversity impacts."
      • "[A] carbon stock assessment, ecosystem services study, and biodiversity survey in and around a protected peat swamp surrounded by areas zoned for oil palm".
    • "These results, and others outlined in the full report, have helped fill a critical need for data and information to facilitate good decisions on biofuel feedstock production, and models of successful strategies to produce feedstocks more sustainably on the ground."
    • Download the report, Sustainable Biofuel Crops Project - Final Scientific and Progress Report (PDF File)
  • Norway to continue palm oil investments, 30 March 2011 by MongaBay.com: "Norway's $550 billion sovereign wealth fund will continue investing in Asian palm oil companies despite criticism from environmental groups, reports Reuters."
    • "Runar Malkenes, Deputy Director of the Information Division at Norway's Ministry of Finance, told Reuters that while the fund will continue to invest in the sector, it may exclude palm oil companies that cause egregious environmental damage."
    • "Last year Norway divested its holdings in Samling, a Malaysian company associated with destructive logging practices and social conflict with indigenous groups in Malaysian Borneo."
    • "The fund, which invests revenues from the country's oil and gas industry, held 2.4 billion Norwegian crowns ($430 million) worth of palm oil-related stocks as of the end of last year."
    • "Norway's statement comes a week after Indonesian activist group Greenomics criticized Norway for continuing to hold stakes in several palm oil companies linked to deforestation, including Golden Agri Resources (GAR), which owns PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART], a firm that had been targeted for Greenpeace over destruction of rainforests and peatlands in Borneo."[10]
  • Counting the carbon cost of peatland conversion, 7 March 2011 by Nature News: "Up to 6% of carbon-rich peat-swamp forests had been cleared in Peninsular Malaysia and on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra to make way for oil-palm plantations by the early 2000s, according to a study published today. The clearances, a response to rising demand for food and biofuel, released as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the entire UK transport sector does in a year."
    • "Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first attempt to systematically assign a value to the carbon loss due to peatland destruction in Southeast Asia that can be attributed directly to conversion to oil-palm plantations."
    • "Malaysia and Indonesia (which includes Sumatra and parts of Borneo) are the world's largest suppliers of palm oil, accounting for 87% of global production in 2008."
    • "Like most forests, peat-swamp forests store large amounts of carbon above ground as biomass, and this is lost when the forest is cleared. They also store large amounts of carbon in their soils, as dead organic matter decomposes slowly under marshy conditions. Draining peatlands to create agricultural land oxidizes the soil and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."
    • "For the first 25 years after an oil-palm plantation is established in a peat-swamp forest, about 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide are released per hectare every year, according to recent research."[11]
  • Palm oil giant vows to spare most valuable Indonesian rainforest, 9 February 2011 by The Guardian: "[[Golden Agri-Resources Limited has committed itself to protecting forests and peatlands with a high level of biodiversity, or which provide major carbon sinks, as part of an agreement with conservation group the Forest Trust."
    • "However, the agreement announced on Wednesday will still leave GAR free to exploit other areas of forest, and land that is judged to be of lower conservation value."
    • "Scott Poynton, executive director of the Forest Trust, said 'It's about going to the root causes of deforestation – we have shown that the destruction of forests is anchored deeply in the supply chains of the products we consume in industrialised nations, and we are showing we can do something about that.'"
    • He said pressure from Nestlé, which last year drew up a set of sustainability guidelines and signalled that it would not accept palm oil from sources connected to deforestation, had been instrumental in bringing GAR to the table."
    • "Experts in Indonesia will be asked to judge whether GAR forests have "high conservation value" under guidance from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a coalition of the palm oil industry and conservation groups."[12]
  • Malaysian palm oil destroying forests, report warns, 2 February 2011 by the Guardian: "Study by Wetlands International claims level of palm oil-related deforestation in Malaysia is higher than previously thought."
    • "The report claims that between 2005 and 2010, almost 353,000 hectares of peat swamp forests were cleared – a third of Malaysia's total – largely for palm oil production."
    • "The clearing, draining and burning of peat swamp forests is responsible for about 10 per cent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions, according to Wetlands International."
    • "Palm oil firms in Malaysia and Indonesia are under increasing pressure by major Western retailers and consumer goods brands, many of which use palm oil in their products, to halt the expansion of plantations that lead to forest clearance."
    • "Some Malaysian palm oil producers have also joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, but strong demand from India and China for unsustainably sourced oil means others can avoid doing so without necessarily harming their market share."[13]
  • More Palm Oil Questions: Finnair Halts Biofuel Introduction, As Malaysia's Forests Fall For Farming , 1 February 2011 by Treehugger.com: "State-owned airline Finnair has announced that it will not begin using aviation biofuel on some of its routes this year as previously planned."
    • "The announcement comes on the same day that a new assessment of the damage caused by palm oil plantation expansion in Malaysia paints a grim future for tropical peat forests."
    • "Finnair had planned to begin using kerosene produced by Neste Oil from palm oil in 2011."
    • "The environmental director of Finnair explained the decision to not using the aviation biofuel:'The price of the fuel and its sustainability measured against all criteria is not at the level that we would have gone into it at this point.'"
    • "'An ideal situation would be for us to get biological kerosene produced from local raw materials, because there is no sense in hauling raw materials from the other side of the world. We would have wanted to start commercial flights with biofuel now, but products that are currently available have not met our sustainability criteria.'"[14]

2010

  • Indonesia puts moratorium on new forest clearing, 27 May 2010 by Reuters: "Indonesia will place a two-year moratorium on new concessions to clear natural forests and peatlands under a deal signed with Norway aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, the government said in a statement."
    • Under a bilateral agreement, "Norway will invest $1 billion in forest conservation projects in Indonesia."
    • "The suspension would encourage the development of new plantations 'on degraded lands rather than vulnerable forests and peatlands'."
    • "Palm oil firms such as Wilmar and Indofood Agri Resources have big expansion plans in Indonesia, already the largest producer of an oil used to make everything from biscuits to soap."
    • "Part of Norway's $1 billion will be spent on creating monitoring systems and pilot projects under a U.N.-backed forest preservation scheme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)."
    • "REDD allows developing nations to earn money by not chopping down their trees and preserving carbon-rich peatlands, seen as key to slowing climate change because forests soak up huge amounts of greenhouse gases."[15]
  • Nestle caves to activist pressure on palm oil , 17 May 2010 by Mongabay.com: "After a two month campaign against Nestle for its use of palm oil linked to rainforest destruction spearheaded by Greenpeace, the food giant has given in to activists' demands. The Swiss-based company announced today in Malaysia that it will partner with the Forest Trust, an international non-profit organization, to rid its supply chain of any sources involved in the destruction of rainforests." A company press release stated that "Nestle wants to ensure that its products have no deforestation footprint."
    • "Nestle stated that under new sourcing guidelines it will only use palm oil suppliers that do not break local laws, protect high conservation forests and any forests with 'high carbon' value, protect carbon-important peatlands, and support free prior and informed consent for indigenous and local communities."
    • "For its part, Nestle has pledged that 100 percent of its palm oil will come from sustainable sources by 2015. Currently 18 percent of Nestle's palm oil is from sustainably certified sources, but the company hopes to reach 50 percent by the end of 2011."[16]
    • Related: Read about Nestle's "Responsible Sourcing" guidelines
  • Indonesia could double oil palm plantation area, 2 December 2009 by Mongabay: "Indonesia has 18 million hectares of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, nearly twice the 9.7 million hectares that have already been allocated for plantations, said Agriculture Minister Suswono...at the opening of the 5th Indonesian Palm Oil Conference in Bali."
    • "Roughly 7.9 million hectares of the allocated area has already been planted with oil palm."
    • "Oil palm expansion in Indonesia promises to be controversial due to environmental concerns. In February the government approved a decree that will allow the conversion of up to 2 million hectares carbon-rich peatlands, a move scientists warn could trigger the release of hundreds of millions of tons of CO2."
    • "[E]conomic returns from oil palm plantations could soon face competition under a scheme (known as REDD for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) that would compensate countries for protecting carbon sinks, notably tropical forests and possibly peatlands. Under some circumstances carbon conservation could outperform palm oil production....Indonesia's recent announcements about oil palm expansion across peatlands may in fact be posturing to win more compensation under a REDD mechanism."[17]
  • Indonesia reopens peatland to palm oil plantation, 18 February 2009 by The Guardian: "Indonesia today acknowledged it had quietly lifted a year-long freeze on the use of peat land for palm oil plantations, fuelling fears of a rise in greenhouse gas emissions."
    • "Environmental groups had pressed the government to maintain the ban but Indonesia's agriculture ministry said tighter controls for issuing new permits for growing palm oil on peat land had been set after a study during the past year."
    • "To grow palm oil, the peat land that must be cleared and drained, releasing millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. The oil is a major export product and is used in numerous foods, soaps, washing powders and as a feedstock for biofuels."
    • "Indonesia is the world's leading palm oil producer and has planted palm estates of 7.1m hectares, with smallholders accounting for about 35 percent. Palm oil generated exports revenue of £7.64bn in 2008."[18]
  • Indonesian NGO backs villagers in fight against palm oil, 29 January 2009 by AFP: "Deep in the forests of Indonesian Borneo, a small environmental group is using education and common sense to arm villagers against the devastating onslaught of palm plantations."
    • The "spread of palm oil plantations into forests and peatlands on Sumatra and Borneo islands have helped make Indonesia the world's third-highest greenhouse gas emitter, thanks partly to the craze for 'eco-friendly' biofuels."
    • "They have also wiped out habitats of threatened species like orangutans and Bornean clouded leopards."
    • "But the plantations are also hurting people whose traditional communities depend on the forests and the biodiversity they contain".
    • "Vast tracts of forest have already disappeared under palm plantations and the government is encouraging more despite its stated commitment to lowering greenhouse gas emissions by preserving the carbon stored in jungles."
    • "In 1990 there were 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) of land under palm oil plantation in Indonesia, according to official figures. This year there are 7.6 million hectares."
    • "Palm oil companies have been clearing orangutan habitats on Borneo despite signing up to voluntary standards under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a talking shop for industry and environmental groups."[19]
  • Biofuel Plantations on Tropical Forestlands Are Bad for the Climate and Biodiversity, Study Finds, 1 December 2008, by Business Wire: A study in the journal Conservation Biology found that converting tropical rainforests to biofuel plantations will significantly increase carbon emissions and threaten biodiversity.
    • "The study reveals that it would take at least 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost through forest conversion. And if the original habitat was carbon-rich peatland, the carbon balance would take more than 600 years. On the other hand, planting biofuels on degraded Imperata grasslands instead of tropical rain forests would lead to a net removal of carbon in 10 years, the authors found." [20]
    • "'It’s a huge contradiction to clear tropical rain forests to grow crops for so-called "environmentally friendly" fuels,' said co-author Faizal Parish of the Global Environment Center, Malaysia. 'This is not only an issue in South East Asia – in Latin America forests are being cleared for soy production which is even less efficient at biofuel production compared to oil palm. Reducing deforestation is a much more effective way for countries to reduce climate change while also meeting their obligations to protect biodiversity.'" [21]



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