Save the orangutans – ban biofuel!
One of the worst environmental disasters of our time is unfolding in Indonesia: every year, palm oil companies torch vast rainforest areas to expand their plantations. The EU’s biofuels policy is fanning the flames, with more than 1.6 million tons of palm oil ending up in European vehicles every year. Tell the EU to stop biodiesel NOW!Call to action
To: the heads of government of the EU states
Ban biodiesel now. Rainforests are burning and people and animals are dying for the production of palm oil.
Rainforests are going up in flames because of the EU’s tragically misguided efforts to protect the climate with its biofuels policy. Producing the 1.6 million tons of palm oil consumed annually by European vehicles requires a plantation area of 5,500 square kilometers – that’s an area of former rainforest land nearly four times the size of London or seven times the size of New York City.
The EU mandates the addition of supposedly “green” plant-based diesel to conventional fossil diesel fuel. In July 2015, the European Council decided to raise the biofuels share from currently just under five percent to seven percent.
To meet the demand, rainforests and peatlands are going up in smoke in Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of palm oil. In 2015 alone, corporate arsonists destroyed 17,000 square kilometers of forest on Borneo and Sumatra. Companies are preparing the land for plantations using slash-and-burn practices – while illegal, it is cheaper than clearing the land mechanically, and plantation owners have little to fear in the way of legal repercussions. “Our forests are burning every year; it gets worse each time,” as Nordin, a member of our partner organization Save our Borneo, reports.
In 2015, no less than 17,000 square kilometers of rainforest were torched in Sumatra and Borneo. 25 million people spent months living in a hell of fire and choking pollution. The situation was particularly dramatic in the province of Central Kalimantan on Borneo, Nordin’s home. On a number of days, airborne particulate matter reached 90 times the World Health Organization’s safe threshold – people there are dying from air pollution.
Please call on the EU to abandon its disastrous biofuels policy for the benefit of the climate, biodiversity, and the health and well-being of millions of Southeast Asians.Background
Palm oil consumption for biofuels in the EU:
According to a study by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), biodiesel production in the EU consumed 1.62 million tons of palm oil and 0.85 million tons of soybean oil in 2014. With a share of 14.2%, palm oil is thus the second most important oil used for biodiesel production in the EU (after rapeseed oil with a 55% share and just ahead of recycled oils with 14.1%). Finland-based Neste is the largest producer of biodiesel from palm oil in the EU with an output of 0.97 million tons.
Biofuel consumption by the transport sector in the EU in 2014
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 14 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 2.7 million tons, corresponding to 19.1%
- biodiesel: 11.2 million tons, corresponding to 79.7%
- biofuel share in 2014: 4.9%
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 2.75 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.8 million tons
- biodiesel: 1.9 million tons
- biogas: 0.04 million tons
- biofuel share: 5.3%
- palm oil in biodiesel, 2014: approx. 0.14 million tons
Source: https://www.dbfz.de/fileadmin/eeg/berichte/3310025_03MAP250_Bericht_Mai_2015.pdf (in German)
- biodiesel production, 2014: 3.3 million tons
- domestic consumption: 1.8 million tons
- export: 1.7 million tons
Source: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/grafik-des-tages-biodiesel-wird-zum-exportgut-13839764.html (in German)
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 2.96 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.41 million tons
- biodiesel: 2.54 million tons
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 0.98 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.18 million tons
- biodiesel: 0.8 million tons
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 1.06 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.008 million tons
- biodiesel: 1.06 million tons
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 0.3 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.005 million tons
- biodiesel: 0.29 million tons
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 1.16 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.4 million tons
- biodiesel: 0.75 million tons
Biofuel consumption, 2014: 0.54 million tons, consisting of
- ethanol: 0.06 million tons
- biodiesel: 0.48 million tons
Note: Not all figures are directly comparable.
The FAZ and DBFZ figures in the section on Germany are in metric tons.
EurObserv’ER figures are in oil-equivalent tons.
The equivalency conversion compensates for biofuel’s lower energy content than gasoline and diesel fuel from crude oil.
To: the heads of government of the EU states
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In 2015, Indonesia’s rainforests burned for months months on end, mainly due to deliberate arson to make room for new industrial oil palm and acacia plantations. Highly toxic smoke blanketed large parts of Indonesia and neighboring countries. As of mid-October, fifteen people – most of whom were children – had been killed by the pollution. Half a million people have fallen seriously ill from exposure to airborne particulate matter.
This man-made disaster is a tragic outcome of the misguided energy and climate policies of the EU member countries. EU countries imported 1.62 million tons of palm oil in 2014 for the production of biodiesel alone. Producing that palm oil requires 5,500 square kilometers of plantation area on former rainforest land. Citizens of EU countries are involuntary accessories to this crime against the planet every time they fuel their cars.
Other crops used for biodiesel production such as rapeseed and soya have a similarly negative environmental impact. Please ban the mandatory blending of biofuels immediately for the sake of the climate, biodiversity, and the health and well-being of millions of Southeast Asians.
The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks
At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.
Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.
Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.
The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc
The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.
Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.
As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.
The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks
Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.
Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:
- Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
- Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
- Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
- Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
- Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
- Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
- Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
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