In April 2017, the EU Parliament passed a “Resolution on Deforestation and Palm Oil”. In January 2018, EU members voted to exclude palm biodiesel in the EU renewable energy mandate, beginning in 2021. More responsible responses to the EU’s concerns about deforestation include reforesting Europe (#EUReforest) and biobanking (#Biobank).
The fallacies of a palm oil ban
EU Parliamentarians have assumed, based on erroneous facts and figures that palm oil must be halted in its tracks, otherwise the rainforests are lost. But the facts speak differently:
- Most EU28 member countries have a poor record of forest cover. Whereas Malaysia has 55% forest cover, verified by the FAO and other forest authorities, the average forest cover in the EU28 is a mere 33.7% of total land acreage.
- The EU28 devotes 11 million hectares of its land towards cultivation of oil-bearing rapeseed (canola), sunflower and soybean crops. The problem is that cultivating these oils takes 7 to 11 times more land than cultivation of palm oil.
- Should the palm oil ban be realized, the EU28 must find additional rapeseed oil sources within Europe. This could mean devoting up to an additional 5 million hectares for oilseed cultivation. This alarms agriculture and environmental experts because European oilseed cultivation has already been found to be adversely impacting their wetlands and waterways.
The palm oil ban may increase greenhouse gases, escalate climate change.
- The EU’s animal husbandry has very high pollution and greenhouse gases emissions potential, mostly methane from farm animals. A whopping 64.2 million hectares in the EU are devoted permanently as pasturelands. In any year, an additional 12 million hectares can be added as temporary pastureland to support their cattle and dairy industries, possibly impacting climate change in more ways than the entire 5.8 million hectares under oil palm cultivation in Malaysia.
- The EU vote to ban palm oil has not accounted for the by-product animal fats from these 76 million ha pastureland. These fats may also find applications in their renewable energy mandate in the form of tallow and lard (EU produced 1.1 million MT and 2.02 million MT respectively, in 2016). The EU is not accounting for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with 2.03 million MT of butter production annually.
Reforesting offers the EU28 a way out
Some Malaysians are now demanding that the EU28 REFOREST Europe, starting by reducing their acreage of pasturelands. They propose to use Malaysia’s forest cover commitment of 50% at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit as a benchmark. A mere 5 million ha of reforestation in Europe will get them to about 40% forest cover; still far below the Malaysian 50% commitment.
But will the EU parliamentarians take a fresh “Resolution” vote on this reforestation? There are two probable reasons why they may not. The estimated cost of reforestation in Europe is about Euros 2,500 per hectare. These costs could add up to Euros 12.5 Billion (RM 60 Billion). Additionally, powerful lobby groups within the cattle and dairy industries as well as rapeseed, sunflower and other oilseed cultivators would not wish to give up their access to nearly 5 million hectares of precious arable land.
Protect forests and wildlife through BIOBANKING
As a developing nation, Malaysia could do with more funding to further enhance its forest management and better protect its precious wildlife. There is the well-tested concept of BIOBANKING. You compensate by conserving equivalent high-conservation land masses for areas you have exploited.
Since EU28 has already exploited nearly 76 million hectares of pastureland and 11 million hectares under its oilseeds cultivation, with an additional potential expansion of 5 million ha to fit its Renewable Energy Directive II, it’s not a bad idea to consider Biobanking in Malaysia.
In consideration, Malaysia’s expansion of its oil palm cultivated acreage, which has already reached its near maximum, could be capped. Instead of expanding the total cultivated area, Malaysia could vigorously commit towards increasing yields per hectare, from current averages of 3.8 MT to 6.0 MT per hectare.
If you like the idea of EU reforestation and compensation through biobanking in the developing world send your message: #EUReforest #Biobank.