Wednesday

29th Jan 2020

Palm oil plantations are now 'forests,' says EU

  • Indonesian palm crop awaiting transportation (Photo: friends of the earth)

The European Commission and some EU member states hope to redefine palm oil plantations as "forests," according to a leaked document from the EU executive.

Rules governing the use of biofuels were supposed to be designed to sort out the sustainable versions of the technology from their dirtier cousins following a massive backlash against it in 2008. At the time, an avalanche of reports revealed that many forms of the fuel source both increase greenhouse gas emissions and put pressure on food prices.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The production of palm oil was one of the most egregious examples of the problem.

In the wake of the biofuels boom, there has been a rush to chop down rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations. The UN says that the growth in such plantations is now the main cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Worse still are the land grabs and human rights abuses resulting from the lucrative business. In Indonesia, as EUobserver reported two years ago, when native communities complain about the loss of their lands, private security firms and police that collude with the oil companies crack down violently on protesters.

But in a manoeuvre that has shocked environmental campaigners, a draft commission communication offering guidance to EU member states on the use of biofuels has classified palm oil plantations - the source of one of the most destructive forms of biofuels - as "forests."

Essentially, the document argues that because palm oil plantations are tall enough and shady enough, they count as forests.

"Continuously forested areas are defined as areas where trees have reached, or can reach, at least heights of five metres, making up a crown cover of more than 30 percent," reads the jargon-filled document.

"They would normally include forest, forest plantations and other tree plantations such as palm oil. Short rotation coppice [the practice of repeatedly cutting young tree stems down] may qualify if it fulfils the height and canopy cover criteria."

"This means, for example, that a change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the [sustainability criteria]. "

Green groups were outraged by the move. "Palm oil plantations are one of the very worst examples of the problems with biofuels. The spirit of the debate in 2008 was specifically to stop this sort of thing," Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe told this website.

"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."

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council for the last two years employed GPlus, the international lobbying outfit, to press their case in both Brussels and national capitals, and brought a number of ministers to Europe to meet with their counterparts on a couple of occasions, according to the firm.

The Brussels office of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council refused to comment on the matter.

The commission for its part does not comment on leaked texts but a spokesperson remarked that the draft communication will only be adopted by the new commission college and the new energy chief may or may not approve of the work the outgoing commission has performed on the dossier.

Much of the communication, which was due to be published in March, has provoked disagreement between different departments of the EU's civil service and so has been pushed up a level to commissioner cabinets.

Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states

The first EU-wide climate law will be a "disciplining" exercise to implement the Green Deal - although the Polish climate minister Michal Kurtyka warned the EU Commission about the social cost of delivering the green transition.

Why is Netherlands so far behind on renewables?

Despite its historic connotation with windmills and dams, the Netherlands is in fact far behind most EU countries in the production of energy from renewable sources - alongside stragglers such as Malta, Luxembourg and Belgium.

Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon

The EU commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said on Thursday that member states have a responsibility to implement taxes on carbon to show that emissions have a cost.

News in Brief

  1. EU asylum agency to expand operations in Greece
  2. EU set to repatriate citizens from coronavirus-hit Wahun
  3. German Left MEP resigns over former far-right membership
  4. Sassoli defends 'renewed approach' for enlargement
  5. UK approves limited role for Huawei in 5G network
  6. Cases of coronavirus in France and Germany
  7. Report: EU court seeks authority on post-Brexit deal
  8. Slovenian PM resigns, calls snap election

Europeans ready to 'green' their lifestyles, study finds

Two-thirds of people in Europe, the US and China think their individual behaviour can help tackle climate change - but Europeans and Chinese are more willing to change their living standards to limit global warming than Americans.

Feature

Dutch case opens new era for climate-change litigation

Legal action related to climate change is set to grow considerably in the next few years - especially after a largely-overlooked ruling over Christmas by a Dutch court forced the government to reduce its emission by 25 percent by 2020.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU not prepared for 2015 repeat, warns migration director
  2. Selmayr did not want top job, says predecessor
  3. EU states wary of MEPs leading future conference
  4. Timmermans: EU climate law will 'discipline' rogue states
  5. In Orban's Hungary, the law is not for everyone
  6. 'Brexit is not going to go away,' warns EU's Barnier
  7. Belgian spy services launch internal clear-up
  8. US and UK in war of words over Huwaei

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us