10/10/2007 (Food Week) - Australia wants international action on the sustainable sourcing of palm oil as demand from biofuels companies puts pressure on tropical rainforests.
Palm oil has long been used in the manufacture of cooking oil, soaps and detergents. But the international craving for biofuels has greatly increased demand.
“The challenge we face is that because palm oil can only be grown within 10 degrees of the equator, growing demand for palm oil as feedstock for “green” biofuels, especially in Europe, is promoting deforestation in tropical rainforest countries,” said Federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
“While Australia’s imports of palm oil are very small relative to the global industry, I asked my department to report to me on both the domestic and international position on palm oil production and use and consult with major palm oil importing countries, especially in Europe.
I am advised that the two biodiesel plants which have commenced operations in Australia in the last year and which use palm oil have both undertaken to source their feedstock through companies that abide by the round table on sustainable palm oil (RSPO). The round table was established in 2002 to ensure palm oil was produced sustainably.
“If palm oil is produced in areas which had previously been cleared for agriculture, biodiesel based on that palm oil does have a considerable reduction in CO2 emissions compared to petroleum.
“However, if the land is cleared of rainforest or, worse still, forested peatland is cleared, the CO2 emissions attributed to that palm oil are in fact greater than petroleum.”
Turnbull said coordinated international action is essential.
“I intend to take a proposal to the UN climate change meeting in Bali in December to establish an international certification scheme for the sourcing of palm oil from sustainable sources,” he added.
“This would mean that in order to be certified as sustainable, plantations could not have been established on land which had been cleared for that purpose.
“I expect to have the support of key palm oil importing countries and my department will liaise closely with other countries to ensure strong support for the proposal.
“The Australian government is also working with countries, particularly Indonesia and other countries in our neighbouring region, through the $200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate to reduce the 20% of global emissions that come from deforestation.”