The Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) urges the European Union (EU) to revise its approach on vegetable oils in biofuels under the framework of the Renewable Energy Directive II (RED II) in light of the upcoming revision of the Directive expected on 14 July 2021 as well as the Commission’s approaching deadline for adopting rules on certifying low indirect land-use change (ILUC)-risk biofuels and updating the list of high ILUC-risk feedstocks.
The CPOPC reiterates its opposition to the criteria laid down in a Delegated Regulation from March 2019 where palm oil is the only crop yielding high ILUC-risk and thus subjected to a freeze and phase-out from the EU’s renewable energy program.
The use of ILUC as a policy tool has been fraught with methodological problems and biases from the beginning. Therefore, a new approach, which treats all sustainable vegetable oils equally, based on verified production practices and not on the type of commodity, is urgently needed. After all, commodities in themselves are not responsible for deforestation – it is the practices that matter.
Palm oil had been singled out as damaging to the environment based on a comparison study that used 2008-2016 as a gauge for ILUC. This timeline discriminates against countries that were late in development as their growth during that period affected the most Land Use Change.
The CPOPC argues that a proper timeline to determine the sustainability of vegetable oils for renewable energy should be 1960-2016. This provides an equitable comparison where the dynamic contribution of palm oil to the sustainable development of Indonesia and Malaysia in post-colonial times can be highlighted against global Land Use Change (LUC).
This further allows the consideration of a new data on LUC which was not available to the EU Commission at the time of its consideration of ILUC. A study by Nature tracked Land Use Change from 1960-2019 and identified 43 million Km2 from the Global North to the South. Estimates on palm oil cultivation globally puts it at a mere 250,000 Km2.
The global ambition to decarbonize is one of supreme urgency. The recent decision by G7 countries to back off ambitions for EVs is a clear signal that biofuels are a needed tool in fighting climate change without disrupting global economies.
The EU’s bias against palm oil threatens the Union’s ability to decarbonize its transport and energy sectors. Clear evidence of its bias can be seen in its analysis of Annual Net Increase of Harvested Area 2008-2016 which highlighted palm oil as the highest at 4%. This puts palm oil at the highest risk of ILUC if one only looks at the percentage.
It must be noted that the same analysis showed considerably larger land footprints of other vegetable oils. Palm oil started at a base point of 15.369 kha while rapeseed and soy started at 30.093 kha and 96.380 kha respectively. The EU analysis granted rapeseed an annual net increase of 1%.
This is a clear distortion of facts. Had palm oil producing countries developed at the same pace as rapeseed producing countries, palm oil would have shown a 2% increase instead of 4%. The most apparent distortion of facts is in granting soybean 3% based on a start point and annual increase of harvested areas that is more than four times larger than palm oil.
Seen in this perspective, the CPOPC argues further that the energy yield per hectare of land used for biofuels must be properly included for fair analysis. Scientific research has shown that palm oil has an energy efficiency that is four times that of rapeseed or soy. Once this knowledge is applied to the EU analysis on land use of vegetable oils, it would place palm oil as the most efficient crop for renewable energy.
In addition to land use, recent studies on the environmental impacts of tilling and heavy agri-chemical use for soy and rapeseed demand that the EU include the environmental impacts of these vegetable oils as their contribution to climate change is more quantifiable than the ILUC supposition.
Confidence in Palm Oil Producing Countries
Major palm oil producing countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have interests in the EU’s biofuels program, have shown commitments and concrete actions to the sustainability of their palm oil production. The Indonesian moratorium on new licenses for oil palm and Malaysia’s commitment to cap palm oil cultivated areas are just two examples of sustainable land use management by both countries. The significant decrease of wildfires and deforestation in Indonesia provides firm evidence of the commitment of palm oil producing countries towards sustainable vegetable oil production.
CPOPC gives credit to the respective countries for this phenomenon as both countries strive towards sustainable management of their natural resources and the positive impacts of palm oil in lifting millions of farmers out of poverty.
Where the contribution of the palm oil industry may not be evident to observers, the implementation of national certification schemes for palm oil in the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) have been instrumental in quantifying the sustainability of their palm oil production.
Clarity in Certification
The CPOPC acknowledges the EU’s concerns on the efficiency of voluntary certification schemes and looks forward to proving the efficiency of mandatory national schemes in removing deforestation from EU imports.
The ISPO and MSPO are without peer in the global production of vegetable oils. The CPOPC believes that these twin certification schemes provide the right path towards the SDGs for both the EU and palm oil producing countries which, ultimately, can be a global model for sustainable vegetable oils.
Palm oil producing countries look forward to the ongoing EU-ASEAN Joint Working Group (JWG) on sustainable vegetable oils where a holistic and non-discriminatory approach towards vegetable oils can be developed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).