EU Hypocrisy On Peat

The EU delegation visiting Malaysia last week had Peatlands at the top of the agenda.  Why? They intend for Peatlands to be a key part of the checklist in the forthcoming EU Deforestation Criteria for biofuels, under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

There is a significant change between the 2009 RED text and the revised version that was agreed upon by the EU’s lawmaking bodies in July. So what’s the difference?

In the original RED, as with forests, a conversion date for biofuel feedstock was in place for Peatlands. To recap, if Peatland is converted or drained for biofuel production after January 2008, that feedstock is banned from accessing the RED.

The revised RED changes this, but only slightly. In addition to the 2008 cut-off, it states that feedstocks will only be acceptable if: “the country in which forest biomass was harvested has national and/or sub-national laws applicable in the area of harvest as well as monitoring and enforcement systems in place ensuring that … areas designated by international or national laws or by the relevant competent authority for nature protection purposes, including in wetlands and peatlands, are protected.”

It also states that if those laws aren’t in place, a management system protecting those functions will be acceptable.

The real change, however, is in the planned introduction of ‘risky’ criteria for high carbon stock areas, which includes Peatland areas. This is currently being discussed by the EU Commission, with a report out in February that will be sent to the EU Parliament and Council for approval.

This process is based on the RED compromise text, agreed in July, which states that if considerable expansion of a feedstock into a HCS area – which includes Peatlands – is observed, that feedstock will be considered as a high risk for indirect land-use change (ILUC).

This is how the EU will try to label all Palm Oil as ‘risky’ or ‘high risk’, even if the Palm Oil itself hasn’t come from Peatlands.

Is this going to be a problem for Malaysian Palm Oil?

It may well be. There has been expansion of oil palm on peat. But the compromise RED text isn’t clear on how it’s going to treat or certify feedstocks that it will consider low risk. For example, if there is expansion of Palm Oil on Peatland in one country, does that mean that Palm Oil from another country gets tarnished with the same brush?

It’s absolutely vital that the Deforestation Criteria that are currently being developed by the EU don’t undermine countries, companies and jurisdictions that are absolutely doing the right thing.

The EU delegation needs to bear in mind that South East Asia is not the only region where Peatland is a historic – and current – source of energy, sustenance and commerce. The EU needs to be wary about its own active use of Peatlands, for the scent of hypocrisy is in the air.

As has been pointed out on The Oil Palm previously, there are a couple of myths surrounding peat and emissions.

The first is that peat emissions only occur in ASEAN. False.

As one German group notes, “From drainage alone, the EU’s peatland-related emissions – amounting to about 270 Mt CO2-eq. per year – are second only to Indonesia’s.” Note: this means that, according to the German study, the EU’s peat emissions are higher than Malaysia.

Other studies confirm that the European Union has relatively high levels of emissions from degraded peat. The most comprehensive study considers the European Union to be the second-highest source of Peatland degradation emissions.

The study confirms the “EU as a source of carbon dioxide emissions from peatlands drainage that it is largely due to agriculture and forestry”.  The largest emissions come from Finland (50 million tons), Germany (32 million tons) and Poland (24 million tons).  In combination, these are significantly larger than Malaysia’s (48 million tons), according to the study.

In Germany, there has been considerable expansion of corn for biogas since the introduction of both German renewables subsidies and the RED.

The second myth is that Peatland emissions only occur when Peatland is drained.  Peat degradation emissions take place when Peatlands are used for agriculture. This is widespread around the world – including in the European Union.

In Germany around“7.3 per cent of agricultural land is peatland – but this is responsible for more than 30 per cent of agriculture emissions in Germany”. EU-wide, it is estimated that peat is responsible for 90 per cent of the EU’s agricultural soil-based emissions.

It is also the case that Peatlands are being used in Germany to grow maize, which is then used as a feedstock for biogas.

The debate around Peatland and biofuels isn’t as simple as stopping the conversion of Peatlands. Ultimately, this debate is about the desire of many in Europe to stop imports of Palm Oil. If Peatlands are included as a specific criterion in the EU’s Deforestation Criteria, that will be a signal, as clear as day, that the peat issue is being weaponised simply to justify new restrictions on Palm Oil. Any such Deforestation Criteria should be viewed for what it is: disguised discrimination against the developing world and a de facto violation of trade rules.

The EU needs to be called out for its sheer hypocrisy. It is disingenuous for the EU to claim that any restrictions on Palm Oil would be justified because of Peatland emissions or expansion. If that claim is made, it should be seen for what it is: not a statement of policy, but a means to an end (the EU’s stated end-goal to ban Palm Oil biofuel imports).

The EU delegation will no doubt be asking questions about peat. Upon returning from Malaysia to Brussels, Berlin, London and elsewhere in Europe, they would be well-advised to ask questions in those capitals, too. Anything else would be pure discrimination.