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Bio-fuel less sustainable than realised


These conclusions were drawn from new research by the NGO Wetlands International, amongst others. About a quarter of palm oil originates from drained peatlands, which were tropical peat swamps until recently.

In a good year approximately 3 to 6 tonne of palm oil is  produced per hectare. Drainage of peatland results in very rapid peat decomposition, causing emissions of 70 up to 100 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year per hectare. The production of one tonne of palm oil therefore results in carbon dioxide emissions of  up to 33 tonnes. By comparison: the amount of fossil fuel needed to generate the same quantity of energy as one tonne of palm oil results in the emission of 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Hence, even when you exclude emissions for factors that go hand in hand with production, such as transport and fertilization, the emissions when using palm oil are at least 10 times higher than when coal or mineral oil is used.

The palm oil plantations also contribute to the drainage of the surrounding landscape. Every year the extensively drained peatlands in Indonesia suffer from long-lasting fires that cover hundreds of thousands or even millions of hectares of peatland, resulting in further increase of carbon dioxide emissions. This indirectly makes the emissions caused by palm oil cultivation even worse.

Due to the rapidly increasing demand for palm oil, the remaining South East Asian peatlands are currently being logged at high speed and converted into plantations. According to calculations from Delft Hydraulics, degraded peatlands in South East Asia produce 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year due to peatland oxidation and peatland fires, which is equivalent to almost 8% of the total global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. These enormous emissions take place on 12 million hectares of degraded peatlands, equivalent to 0.2% of the total global surface. 

Europe imports a lot of palm oil, mostly for use as a bio-fuel. The European Union and countries like the Netherlands support this development with legislation and subsidies. Some of these same countries promote peatland conservation and restoration. Wetlands International supports the use of bio-fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. But we believe that to ensure environmental sustainability, subsidies on palm oil, as provided by some import countries, should be stopped until the sector stops the conversion and drainage of former peatland forests, invests in restoration of peatland areas and works with a clear certification scheme that makes it possible to distinguish between palm oil originating from peatlands and other palm oil. 

More information on our activities to protect Indonesian peatlands:
For more information please contact:
Alex Kaat
Communication Manager Wetlands International
tel: +31 65060 1917

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