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Kyoto ignores millions of CO2 emissions from biofuels


The Kyoto rules for accounting emissions make a rigid distinction between fossil and non-fossil fuels. 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.

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.

By conservative estimate, about 8% of all Malaysian and 20 to 25% of Indonesian palm oil plantations are now on peatlands. Over 50% of new plantations in Indonesia are planned in such peatlands. In Indonesia already 14% of the peatlands are currently used or earmarked for palm oil production. These peatlands are d eeply drained to enable the oil palms to grow. Drainage leads to a rapid decomposition of the organic carbon of the peat; causing carbon dioxide emissions. 

Indonesia has about 1.5 million ha of palm oil plantations on peat.  From these areas, average emissions are about 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year a hectare, resulting in 150 million tonnes CO2 emissions annually. This is about a quarter of all CO2 emissions in South-east Asia related to peatland drainage (fire is excluded in these estimates).
Malaysia has 4.24 mln hectares of palm oil plantations. By conservative estimate about 8% of all Malaysian palm oil plantations are now on peatlands. This means emissions of 33 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, caused by Malaysian palm oil plantations on peat.

The palm oil yield is between 3 to 6 tonnes per ha per year. If using fossil fuels for this energy, one would get carbon dioxide emissions of 9 to18 tonnes. Preventing these fossil fuel emissions by using renewable biomass is in this case the only benefit of planting palm oil for biomass. A benefit that is totally outweighed by emissions of up to 100 tonnes of CO2  from the same ha per year(see: peat-CO2).  If we add the CO2 emissions from transport of the biomass, pesticides, fertilizer, it is clear that palm oil produced on peat is fuelling climate change rather than reducing it, resulting in 3 up to 10 times more emissions.

The Kyoto-treaty rules for accounting emissions need urgently to be revised. Emissions from carbon stores like peatlands should be taken into account. Until the (post) Kyoto policies are revised accordingly, there needs to be a transparent and verifiable certification system in producing and importing countries to exclude biofuels from peatsoils from any supportive policy. If not, all palm oil should loose its predicate ‘green energy’.

Wetlands International is not against palm oil, and presents in its report a number of positi ve impacts of palm oil, including its potential for diversification of energy supplies and income opportunities for rural areas. 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.

Clcick here for our report and flyer on this subject.
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