Kyoto pact ignores CO2 emissions from biofuels
Rhett Butler,
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.

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Rhett Butler, (December 05, 2007).

Kyoto pact ignores CO2 emissions from biofuels.