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NGOs alarm EU to not support forest conversion for biofuels


The EU Parliament has formulated sustainability criteria to prevent forest loss for biofuel production. Now, a leaked draft document shows how the Commission intends to allow and support conversion of for instance rainforest areas into palm oil plantations to produce biodiesel. 

Wetlands International together with a long list of NGOs urges the European Commission to alter their broad definition of ‘forests’ as it conflicts with the green intentions of the Renewable Energy Directive, violates UN-definitions and is scientifically incorrect.

Wetlands International, supported by a wide range of organisations calls for a sound interpretation of the sustainability criteria of the Renewable Energy Directive. Click here for the letter to the European Commission.

Alex Kaat, Wetlands International: “In our letter, we make clear that undermining the deforestation criterion will accelerate deforestation and violates several articles of the Renewable Energy Directive. It cannot hold.

Leaked document conflicts with EU Renewable Energy Directive

At the end of 2008, the European Parliament succeeded in the formulation of sustainability criteria in the Directive that is promoting the use of biofuels. One of these criteria is to exclude biofuels from any support if produced on recently converted ‘continuously forested areas’. This would limit the rate of the loss of forest and peat soils for conversion into for instance palm oil plantations for biodiesel production. Now, this criterion is totally undermined by the civil servants of the European Commission, under pressure of the Southeast Asian Palm oil lobby.

In a leaked European Commission document on the implementation of the EU Renewable Energy Directive, palm oil plantations are defined as ‘continuously forested areas’. This would make the criterion to prevent forest loss a dead article: logging of a rainforest to establish a palm oil plantation for biodiesel would just be fine.

Palm oil plantations are not a forest

Treating oil palm plantations equal to natural forest is also not in line with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) definition of forest to which the EU Directive of Renewable Energy refers. This definition excludes palm oil plantations from the definition of forests. 

Photo: palm oil plantation on peatlands in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. By Alue Dohong

To define an oil palm plantation as a forest is also scientifically incorrect: The Directive refers to ‘trees’ in defining a forest. An oil palm is not a tree according to the scientific taxonomy of species. Oil palms may be able to reach the same height, but grow differently, and therefore belong to different Taxonomic classes. Palms are more like grasses.

Financing biodiversity loss and carbon emissions

Conversion of natural forest into monoculture plantations would lead to significant losses of biodiversity and of stored carbon. The amount of carbon stored, as plantations grow, never matches that lost from clearing the large carbon stores in natural forests. Not distinguishing between natural forest and plantations would give oil palm producing countries like Indonesia and Malaysia free game to continue to destroy their forests, drain their peatswamps and replace these by industrial tree plantations such as palm oil, while still receiving biofuel support in Europe for their harvests.

Worst impacts on climate through conversion of peatswamp forests

This problem is worst in Southeast Asia with the conversion of tropical peatswamp forests into palm oil plantations. Peatswamp forests are the largest carbon stores per hectare. Especially these areas are rapidly logged and drained to establish palm oil plantations, at the cost of enormous carbon losses and pushing already critically endangered species, like the Orangutan, towards extinction.

This loss of precious natural forest areas will be accelerated by the EU biofuel policy if the European countries support biofuels with criteria that undermine their environmental integrity.

Download the joint letter of Wetlands International and other NGOs to the European Commission


For more information:

Wetlands International

Alex Kaat, +31 (0)6 50601917

Press contact

Communications and Advocacy Department