Sustainability mandated for biofuels used in the EU
January 24, 2008

Biofuels used in the European Union will have meet strict environmental requirements said the head of the E.U.'s energy program on Wednesday.

At a news conference in Brussels, European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the E.U. was considering four criteria to ensure biofuels were environmentally sustainable including a 35 percent carbon dioxide emissions savings compared with conventional fossil fuels, a production ban on "land of high biodiversity" and land with high carbon stocks, and requisite use of best agricultural practices.

Piebalgs said that the E.U. would monitor compliance.

The announcement comes after a long campaign by environmentalists and scientists highlighting the ecological damage wrought by production of some biofuels, including palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is blamed for large-scale destruction of biologically-rich rainforests and carbon-rich peat swamps in southeast Asia.

The concerns over biofuels were echoed Wednesday by a U.N. official speaking in Bangkok at a regional forum on bioenergy.

"Biofuels have become a flash point through which a wide range of social and environmental issues are currently being played out in the media," Regan Suzuki of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

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Dutch plan restricts biofuels that damage environment. The Netherlands has proposed a system to reduce the environmental impact of biofuels production. The country becomes the first in the world to establish such guidelines. Environmentalists have expressed increasing concern for the establishment of energy crops in biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems like the peatlands of Indonesia and the Amazon rainforest. They say that conversion of these forests for oil palm and soybeans is threatening endangered species and worsening global warming. Further, they warn, demand for such biomass energy products is driving up prices for food crops.

Dutch will demand rainforest-friendly palm oil. In a report scheduled to be released today, the Dutch government will outline criteria for growing biofuels in a more sustainable manner. The guidelines will be closely watched by the rest of Europe, which is currently struggling with the environmental pros and cons of large-scale energy crop production, especially in ecologically-sensitive areas like the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests.

Palm oil doesn't have to be bad for the environment. As traditionally practiced in southeast Asia, oil palm cultivation is responsible for widespread deforestation that reduces biodiversity, degrades important ecological services, worsens climate change, and traps workers in inequitable conditions sometimes analogous to slavery. This doesn't have to be the case. Following examples set forth by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and firms like Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil producer, oil palm can be cultivated in a manner that helps mitigate climate change, preserves biodiversity, and brings economic opportunities to desperately poor rural populations.

Eco-friendly palm oil could help alleviate poverty in Indonesia. The Associated Press (AP) recently quoted Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, as saying palm oil is a failure as a biofuel. This would be a misleading statement and one that doesn't help efforts to devise a workable solution to the multiplicity of issues surrounding the use of palm oil.

CITATION: (January 24, 2008).

Sustainability mandated for biofuels used in the EU.