Category Archives: Palm oil

Biofuel to the fire

30 Apr 20
Chris Malins
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In partnership with the Rainforest Foundation Norway, this report reviews the threat to tropical forests from continued expansion of mandates for palm- and soy-oil based biofuels.

Destination deforestation

03 Mar 20
Chris Malins
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The aviation industry identifies ‘sustainable aviation fuels’ as a key tool to manage the growing climate impact of aviation. There are, however, fundamental differences between the sustainability risks associated with the scaling up of the different available alternative aviation fuel technologies. At present, the only alternative aviation fuel technology that is operational at commercial scale is ‘HEFA’ (hydroprocessed esters and
fatty acids), which can be produced at renewable diesel facilities. The feedstocks for HEFA production are primarily vegetable oils, and a rapid expansion of demand for HEFA fuels would put considerable pressure on the global vegetable oil market. That can be expected to lead directly or indirectly to increased production of palm and soy oils. Both the oil palm and soybean crop are associated with ongoing tropical deforestation.

In this report for the Rainforest Foundation Norway, we review the potential for growth in palm oil and soy oil demand due to the introduction of ‘sustainable’ aviation fuel support policies. The report shows that delivering stated ambition without actively managing the technologies and feedstocks used could increase vegetable oil demand by tens of millions of tonnes, and details the potential deforestation, peat loss and climate implications of meeting those targets with a significant contribution from palm and soy oils.

While the worst case scenario is that stated aviation targets would be met without managing the feedstock mix, the report also notes that it currently seems likely that most of the targets discussed will be missed entirely. If so, aviation needs to find viable options to manage its climate impact – that may well need to involve management and limitation of demand growth.

Visit the Rainforest Foundation Norway website.

Risk management

24 Jan 19
Chris Malins
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The recast Renewable Energy Directive, agreed last year, created a new category of high ILUC-risk biofuels, along with defining a role for certifying low ILUC-risk biofuels. This report, undertaken for Transport and Environment, reviews the links between biofuel feedstocks and conversion of high carbon stock land, and looks at the challenges in certifying feedstocks for avoiding displacement. It finds that both palm oil and soy oil production continue to be associated with significant deforestation, and in the case of palm oil with peat drainage, and recommends that these should be categorised as high ILUC-risk by the European Commission.

Reviewing the status of the low ILUC-risk concept, the report draws attention to the difficulty of measuring the impact of productivity improvement projects and the importance of robust demonstration of project additionality, and proposes a an outline for an effective low ILUC-risk certification.

Driving deforestation

06 Feb 18
Chris Malins
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As we highlighted in our report ‘For peat’s sake’, there is a well documented link between increasing palm oil demand, expansion of the cultivated area of palm oil plantations and destruction of forest and peatland ecosystems in Southeast Asia. Despite this link, and several studies suggesting that the use of biofuels produced from palm oil may cause more greenhouse gas emissions than consumption of the fossil fuels they replace, many countries still have biofuel support policies under which palm oil based biofuels are eligible to receive support. In our new report, ‘Driving Deforestation’ we review the status of biofuel policy driven demand for palm oil, and consider three scenarios for potential biofuel-driven palm oil demand between now and 2030. While some regions, notably the European Union, are considering measures that could reduce biofuel-driven palm oil demand in the coming decade, several other policies are currently set to drive dramatic increases in palm oil consumption. The largest sources of potential demand growth are the Indonesian domestic market, where a 30% target for blending biodiesel could generate 19 million tonnes of palm oil demand by 2030 (a 16 million tonne increase), and the aviation industry commitment to switch to alternative aviation fuel, which could generate 19 million tonnes of additional palm oil demand by 2030 if no controls are placed on the feedstocks eligible for support. If current land use trends continue, following the high scenario globally could cause cumulatively result in 7 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide emissions from land use change over the two decades from 2018 to 2038, as compared to a case in which biofuel-driven palm oil demand was eliminated. In a more likely ‘medium’ scenario, there could still be 3 billion tonnes of additional carbon dioxide emissions from land use change compared to a phase out of demand. The full report is available at the link below:

Cerulogy_Driving deforestation_Jan2018

Front cover image from the Driving Deforestation report

For peat’s sake

13 Jun 17
Chris Malins
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This report, commissioned by the Rainforest Foundation Norway (cf., reviews the evidence on the implications of using palm oil to produce biofuel. The report concludes that in all likelihood when renewable fuel policies drive increased palm oil demand the outcomes are worse for the climate than simply continuing to use fossil fuels. In addition to the disastrous climate impact of deforestation and peat-loss in Southeast Asia, oil palm expansion has severe impacts on biodiversity in some of the world’s most ecologically rich habitats. The publication of the report follows news that the Norwegian Parliament has called on the government to ban public procurement of palm oil based biofuels.



Denial of long-term issues with agriculture on tropical peatlands will have devastating consequences

30 Sep 16
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Following the 16th International Peat Congress (IPC) in Kuching (Sarawak), Malaysia, widely read media reported that the congress supported the view that current agricultural practices in peatland areas, such as oil palm plantations, do not have a negative impact on the environment. However, this view is not shared by many of the participants, and does not reflect the broad message conveyed by the research presented at the congress.

In an effort to correct these statements, a number of the world’s leading researchers and practitioners from around the world have come together to publish a letter in Global Change Biology, one of the world’s leading environmental science journals. The 139 authors represent 115 government, academic, industry and non-governmental organizations from 20 countries. Forty of these organizations are based in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore; the countries most directly impacted by the adverse consequences of unsustainable management of tropical peatlands.

The consensus achieved in this paper is unprecedented. The letter confirms that the weight evidence presented at the congress, backed by many decades of scientific research, is unequivocal: business-as-usual management is not sustainable for tropical peatland agriculture and can no longer be justified.  

While truly sustainable peatland agriculture methods do not yet exist, the scientific community and industry are already collaborating in the search for solutions, including interim measures to mitigate ongoing rates of peat loss under existing plantations. Not only is this of global importance in the fight against climate change, it is also key to ensure future economic wealth in tropical peatland rich regions. Indeed, failing to recognize the devastating far-reaching consequences of the way in which peatlands are being managed and failing to work together to address them could mean that the next generations will in fact have to deal with an irreversibly altered, dysfunctional landscape.

For further information contact:

Lahiru Wijedasa

National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Email: Phone: +65-90667160


Dr Roxane Andersen

Environmental Research Institute, University of Highlands and Islands, United Kingdom.

Email: Phone: +44(0)1847889572

Article details:

Wijedasa LS, Jauhiainen J, Könönen M et al. (2016) Denial of long-term issues with agriculture on tropical peatlands will have devastating consequences. Global Change Biology.