European Parliament’s Anti-Palm Oil Bias Strikes Again

Today, the European Parliament votes on its Report on the “Transparent and accountable management of natural resources in developing countries: the case of forests”. It is part of the wider EU campaign to denigrate and discriminate against Palm Oil.

The Report is authored by Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala, a Green Party member. She has been assisted by MEP Katerina Konecna, who previously authored an anti-Palm Oil Report in 2017 that was riddled with inaccuracies.

The report lists a litany of problems associated with the management of forests in developing countries. But it singles out one commodity above all: Palm Oil. This is despite the fact that many other commodities are responsible for greater deforestation than Palm Oil – see below.

This new attempt by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to regulate Palm Oil comes only weeks after their attempts to ban Palm Oil biofuels in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) failed.

MEP Hautala’s Report is a non-binding resolution, but it adds another strong signal to the European Commission and the 28 EU Member States, that the Parliament wants to ban Palm Oil. To recall, this is now the ninth time the European Parliament has voted to restrict or ban Palm Oil in the past 18 months.

The lesson here is clear, and it is twofold. First, the European Parliament is institutionally anti-Palm Oil and clearly determined – regardless of the facts – to pursue an aggressive anti-Palm Oil agenda. Second, that the Parliament is not as powerful as it thinks. All previous efforts by MEPs to ban Palm Oil have failed: major EU Governments and the European Commission have rejected the idea. This was the case with the revised Renewable Energy Directive, where pressure from producing countries led the Council and Commission to remove the MEPs’ planned ban on Palm Oil.

Heidi Hautala is a known anti-Palm Oil activist. She has publicly stated that she was in favour of  restricting Palm Oil in Europe. It is no surprise that her Report is biased against Palm Oil.

However, it is essential to highlight the errors and misinformation in the Report in order to set the record straight:

 

ERROR 1: Agriculture is Responsible for 80 per cent of Deforestation Worldwide. Oil Palm plantations have led to massive forest destruction.

FACT: The Report attributes 80 per cent of global deforestation to agriculture. The EU’s own research states it is closer to 55 per cent. This is similar to the European Parliament’s previous claim that Palm Oil was responsible for 40 per cent of global deforestation has no basis in fact.

Moreover, Palm Oil is far behind other commodities. Deforestation from beef is around ten times higher than that of Palm Oil. Deforestation from soy is more than double. Even deforestation from maize is higher.

 

ERROR 2: Deforestation Emissions Contribute to around 20 per cent of Total Emissions.

FACT: The ‘20 per cent’ attribution of greenhouse gas emissions to deforestation was constructed in the early 2000s and based on very loose methodologies. It was often quoted by NGOs. Better data and better methodologies have emerged since then, as has a better understanding of the carbon cycle for forests. These days the estimate is between 10 and 12 per cent according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, IPCC Assessment Report and the EU’s own Joint Research Centre.

 

ERROR 3: ‘Forest Risk Commodities’ is a Widely Accepted Term.

FACT: It’s a fake-term made up by European NGOs funded by European governments. The Report refers to ‘Forest Risk Commodities’ at various points. Forest risk commodities was coined by the Global Canopy Project, a UK-based NGO. The term has no standing in international agreements or in international law. It is defined by GCP as follows:

“Globally traded goods and raw materials that originate from tropical forest ecosystems, either directly from within forest areas, or from areas previously under forest cover, whose extraction or production contributes significantly to global tropical deforestation and degradation.”

 

Some key flaws are:

 

  • The “forest risk” commodities identified – palm oil, soybean, beef and timber – do not cause deforestation. In Asia and Africa, for example, the major driver of deforestation is local and subsistence agriculture.;
  • When first developed in 2013, the concept made a series of assumptions about the commodities associated with deforestation that no longer hold up now that more advanced data is available;
  • Similarly, the overly-simplistic and catch-all term ‘Forest Risk Commodities’ completely sidelines that fact that deforestation is a result of incredibly complex variables that are often dependent on local context.

 

Global Canopy’s decision to focus on ‘tropical forest ecosystems’ is prejudicial and colonial. People that live in tropical areas, especially around the equator, tend to produce Palm Oil.  They also tend to be poorer. Not to mention, Global Canopy is funded in large by European governments: United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the German and Norwegian Governments. An organisation developed by and funded by Europeans’ aid money is being used to lobby the European Union on how to shape deforestation policy in an anti-development direction. This is a clear conflict of interest. Perhaps developing countries should label European forestry-related products “High Risk”.

 

ERROR 4: Only a European Palm Oil Certification Scheme Can Solve the Problem.

FACT: The Report singles out Palm Oil voluntary certification systems for allowing “deforestation, forest degradation, illegitimate appropriation of land and other human rights violations” to take place.

That’s just plain false.  First, as the EU has pointed out, Palm Oil’s deforestation footprint is significantly lower than that of beef, soybean and maize. Singling out palm oil has no basis in fact.

The reason deforestation takes place in developing countries is not because of Palm Oil, and a certification scheme won’t prevent it: deforestation happens in poor countries because farmers seek farmland to grow crops.

Land rights and human rights violations do not happen because of Palm Oil. Tightening up palm certification will not provide solutions for these problems because neither Palm Oil nor Palm Oil certification is their cause.

Malaysia has strong laws and regulatory systems regulating the Palm Oil industry.  The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard has been launched on a voluntary basis and will become mandatory by 2019.

The mere suggestion that a European Union-forced certification scheme targeting Palm Oil is necessary is patently absurd. Notwithstanding that such a scheme would bring about unequal treatment of Palm Oil, and violate the EU’s commitments under WTO rules.

This latest report is, again, filled with inaccuracies. It’s really just more fake news coming out of Brussels on Palm Oil. MEP Hautala thinks that ending Palm Oil will end deforestation. But deforestation – particularly when paired with poverty – is complex. The sooner the EU realizes this the sooner they might contribute to sustainable development.