US Distortion of Palm Biodiesel Cannot Change the Facts

Efforts to associate emissions with land use of the oil palm sector reflect a profound distortion of the carbon sequestration capabilities of oil palm plantations according to Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. While the European Union and the United States seek to apply land use change emissions to palm biodiesel, in an effort to disqualify its use in their biofuel sectors, the industry has remained carbon negative, displacing the industry’s own minimal emissions along with those of others (including rice, which is a significant source of methane emissions).

The US’s Environmental Protection Agency based their decision to exclude the use of palm oil as a biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard based primarily on the assumption that oil palm expansion is a significant source of GHG emissions in Southeast Asia. However, as Dr Basiron illustrates, this is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. Far from being a source of emissions, the palm oil industry removes more than 100 MT/CO2eq annually, compared to emissions of 26.9 MT/CO2eq for the entire agriculture sector.

These distortions by the EPA become even more glaring when considering how the US hopes to meet its biodiesel mandate relying primarily on domestically produced soy, which is 6 times less land efficient than palm oil. The EPA has projected that soybean production will have to increase by 50% over the next ten years, expanding by more than 14 million hectares. What emissions from this expansion can we expect the EPA to consider for soybeans?

It is time that the US (and Europe) begin to speak honestly about the merits of palm biodiesel, and cease the political manipulation that benefits their domestic biodiesel sectors. There is no amount of distortion that change the fact that palm oil far exceeds the technical criteria imposed by the EPA or that for the Renewable Fuel Standard to achieve its goals, open access to all biofuel types will be needed.

Here soon the Malaysian government will meet with the US EPA and other US government officials to express our profound belief that the actions against palm oil are discriminatory, undermine bilateral relations between our two countries, and do not have scientific merit.

Written by The Oil Palm