European Union (EU) lawmakers are increasingly convinced that Malaysia is on the same path as the EU on the sustainability of palm oil production, but would need more scientific data to support Malaysia’s case.
Dan Jorgensen, who is the vice-chair of the environment, public health and food safety committee in the European Parliament, has promised to bring Malaysia’s case on its discrimination versus other oils in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).
“We don’t want any discrimination at all of the palm oil sector, and we promised the industry here to help have discussions with the EU on this,” he said.
Jorgensen, who was in Malaysia last week with two other Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Martin J. Callanan and Ole K. Christensen, were impressed with the work undertaken by the government and the palm oil industry and the sustainability efforts.
“People there don’t know how efficient an oil it (palm oil) is. I wasn’t aware myself how much oil you can get per hectare compared with other oils – in that way it is discriminated against,” he added.
Oil palms on the average produce 2.5 times more oil per ha than rapeseed.
According to the RED which will come into force in December this year, biofuels must have greenhouse gas savings of at least 35 per cent and according to EU’s calculation, the use of palm oil-based biodiesel failed the requirement as it achieved only 19 per cent.
“We promise to look into the discrimination (claim) and, if there is, we’ll do anything in our powers to change it. The numbers would need to be accurate and based on scientific data,” said Jorgensen.
A social democrat MEP who hails from Denmark, Jorgensen said the EU is committed to the sustainability criteria as it helps mitigate problems of greenhouse gases, climate change, global warming and also biodiversity.
“We’re happy to hear that the industry acknowledges and respects it. They have been discussing how it can become more competitive on the sustainability criteria.”
Jorgensen also suggested that the palm oil industry considers making entrapment of methane gas mandatory to increase the energy efficiency of Malaysia.
Palm oil mills are currently encouraged to trap methane gas from palm oil mill effluent.
“We are convinced that the industry has been doing a lot and we expect it will proceed to become more sustainable because palm oil is important for biofuel as well as oil for food,” he said.
The parliamentarians recognised that palm oil has been the largest contributor of wealth in the country and lends bigger potential compared to the other edible oils.
Christensen also lauded the Malaysian government and the industry for their achievements in bringing the people out of the poverty bracket and also providing employment, especially in the Felda smallholder schemes.
“Palm oil is not a bad thing as is being perceived by many people in Europe. We are gratified that Malaysia has strict laws in place to make sure no more rainforests are destroyed and expansion is on agriculture land,” said Callanan.
Callanan also does not expect Malaysia to be affected by the RED in the short term as the use of palm oil for biofuel is still very small.
Malaysia’s ambassador to the EU, Hussein Haniff, who also attended the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, said more outreach programmes were necessary to enable the EU lawmakers to be convinced that Malaysia is not clearing rainforests to grow oil palm.
There is also the tendency to lump both Malaysia and Indonesia, the top two producers of palm oil, together.
“We want an equal playing field and they are willing to take up on the verification of scientific data. From what we know, they have outdated data.
“In the process of review, if they find the default value is not 19 per cent, then it will be good for us to be on par with the other oils,” said Hussein.