Kyoto pact ignores CO2 emissions from biofuels
Rhett Butler, mongabay.com
December 5, 2007




The Kyoto climate pact, as it currently stands, ignores millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the drainage of peat lands for palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, warned Wetlands International, an international NGO, in a report released at the UN climate meeting in Bali.

The report, "Kyoto biomass policies fuel climate change", details "how the Kyoto accounting rules support the use of biofuels like palm oil while ignoring the huge greenhouse gas emissions connected to the production of this biomass."

"The Kyoto rules for accounting emissions make a rigid distinction between fossil and non-fossil fuels," explained Wetlands International in a statement. "Non-fossil fuels are assumed to have by definition zero greenhouse gas emissions. This assumption ignores that there are other emissions than fossil fuel emissions that add to the greenhouse gas balance in the atmosphere. Thus, these Kyoto accounting rules provide a huge incentive for the use of biomass in Annex 1 countries."



Rainforest clearing for an oil palm plantation in Borneo. Photo from Google Earth.
"The Kyoto rules totally ignore a different group of greenhouse gas emissions: the emissions from organic soils (especially peatlands). Ironically; these emissions are enormous and strongly connected to the production of biomass: palm oil in South-east Asia."

The report estimates that about 8 percent of all Malaysian and 20 to 25 percent of Indonesian oil palm plantations are now on peat lands, while over 50% of new plantations in Indonesia are planned in such peat lands.

Draining peat lands for oil palm plantations leads to rapid decomposition of the organic carbon of the peat, resulting in carbon dioxide emissions. Wetlands estimates that average annual emissions from oil palm plantations on peat in Indonesia are about 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, translating to around 150 million tons of annual CO2 emissions from Indonesia's 1.5 million ha of oil palm plantations on peat. In Malaysia CO2 emissions from plantations on peat are at least 33 million tons (Malaysia has 4.24 million hectares of oil palm, 8 percent of which lie on peat lands).

Wetlands says that while oil palm plantations have a high yield of 3 to 6 tons per ha per year and can be sustainably managed, plantations established on peat are "fueling climate change rather than reducing it, resulting in 3 up to 10 times more emissions."

The report argues that Kyoto-treaty rules for accounting emissions need to be revised in order to include emissions from degradation of carbon stores like peat lands. Until then, says Wetlands, "there needs to be a transparent and verifiable certification system in producing and importing countries to exclude biofuels from peatsoils from any supportive [i.e. subsidized] policy."

"If produced sustainably and socially responsibly palm oil can provide a positive contribution to development. If palm oil development on peat continues, however, the average palm oil can be considered climate unfriendly. Palm oil from peatlands is in fact spoiling the story for all other potentially sustainable palm oil plantations," concludes the statement.



Recent articles on palm oil



Tropical forests face huge threat from industrial agriculture
(12/5/2007) With forest conversion for large-scale agriculture rapidly emerging as a leading driver of tropical deforestation, a new report from the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) suggests the trend is likely to continue with Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Peru, and Colombia containing 75 percent of the world's forested land that is highly suitable for industrial agriculture expansion. Nevertheless the study identifies forests that may be best suited (low population density, unsuitable climate and soils) for "Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation" (REDD) initiatives which compensate countries for preserving forest lands in exchange for carbon credits.

Cooking oil, palm oil biodiesel can reduce emissions relative to diesel
(11/28/2007) A lifecycle analysis of biodiesel by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) shows that using palm oil derived from existing plantations can be an effective biofuel feedstock for reducing greenhouse gas emissions relative to conventional diesel fuel. However, palm oil sourced from rainforest and peatlands generating emissions 8 to 21 times greater than those from diesel.

UN says palm oil destroys forests, indigenous cultures in Indonesia, Malaysia
(11/26/2007) Europe's demand for supposedly eco-friendly biodiesel is fueling destruction of biodiverse rainforests in southeast Asia, warns a new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Palm oil industry announces "eco" standards for production
(11/26/2007) Palm oil producers -- under fire from environmentalists who say the industry is driving the wholesale destruction of biodiverse rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia -- last week announced a new certification process to ensure greener environmental standards for palm oil, reports Reuters.

Is the oil-palm industry using global warming to mislead the public?
(11/23/2007) Members of the Indonesian Palm Oil Commission are distributing materials that misrepresent the carbon balance of oil-palm plantations, according to accounts from people who have seen presentations by commission members. These officials are apparently arguing that oil-palm plantations store and sequester many times the amount of CO2 as natural forests, and therefore that converting forests for plantations is the best way to fight climate change. In making such claims, these Indonesian representatives evidently are ignoring data that show the opposite, putting the credibility of the oil-palm industry at risk, and undermining efforts to slow deforestation and rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon offset returns beat forest conversion for agriculture in Indonesia
(11/21/2007) Conversion of forests and peatlands for agriculture in Indonesia has generated little economic benefit while releasing substantial amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, reports a new study from the the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and their Indonesian partners.

Greenwashing the palm oil industry
(11/12/2007) A new report from Greenpeace alleges that members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil -- an industry-driven initiative to clean up palm oil production -- are using palm oil derived by clearing endangered rainforests and draining carbon-rich peatlands on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Planned logging of Woodlark Island for biofuels opposed by islanders and scientists
(11/12/2007) On Woodlark Island, one-hundred and seventy miles from Papua New Guinea, a struggle is occurring between islanders and biofuel company Vitroplant Ltd. The company is planning to clear much of the island's forest for oil palm plantations to produce biofuels. Vitorplant Ltd.'s contract specifies that they would deforest 60,000 hectares of land for plantations; Woodlark Island is 85,000 hectares in total, meaning over 70% of the island would be converted. Last week, one hundred islanders (out of a total population of 6,000) traveled to the capital of Milne Bay Province, Alotau, to voice their concern over the plans to turn their forested island into plantations.

Oil palm does not store more carbon than forests
(11/8/2007) Officials from the Indonesian ministry of agriculture and the palm oil industry are distributing materials that misrepresent the carbon balance oil palm plantations, according to accounts from people who have seen presentations by members of the Indonesian Palm Oil Commission. Ministry of agricultural officials are apparently arguing that oil palm plantations store and sequester many times the amount of CO2 as natural forests and therefore converting forests for plantations is the best way to fight climate change. In making such claims, these Indonesian officials are ignoring data that show the opposite, putting the credibility of the oil palm industry at risk, and undermining efforts to slow deforestation and reign in greenhouse gas emissions.

Dutch: no subsidies for biofuels-driven rainforest destruction
(10/31/2007) The Dutch government will exclude palm oil from "green energy" subsidies as growing evidence suggests that palm oil is often less sustainable than advertised.

Avoided deforestation beats timber, palm oil, in tax revenue for Indonesia
(10/29/2007) Indonesia could more than double its tax revenue by protecting forests and selling the resulting carbon emission credits instead of timber and palm oil, a University of Michigan researcher told Bloomberg.

Does palm oil alleviate rural poverty in Malaysia?
(10/23/2007) While it is often argued that the economic benefits of oil palm plantations outweigh the environmental costs of converting biodiverse ecosystems to monocultures, new analysis suggests that the role of plantations in reducing rural poverty may be overstated.

Biodiesel demand could destroy world's forests
(10/4/2007) Growing demand for biodiesel could drive large-scale forest conversion for energy crops, warns a study published in Conservation Biology.

Environmentalists and palm oil producers should work together
(9/25/2007) Environmentalists and palm-oil producers are increasingly at odds. Greens groups say palm oil is driving the conversion of tens of thousands of hectares of peatlands and lowland forest in Indonesia, putting wildlife at risk, increasing the vulnerability of forests to fires, and triggering large emissions of greenhouse gases.





CITATION:
Rhett Butler, mongabay.com (December 05, 2007).

Kyoto pact ignores CO2 emissions from biofuels.

http://news.mongabay.com/2007/1205-palm_oil_peatlands.html