The Oil Palm

ILUC – An Unscientific Policy That Will Hurt EU-Malaysia Bilateral Relations

In Europe, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) has been  taken over by powerful protectionist agriculture interests in some European countries and has now become a  trade-protection tool that is designed to protect domestic oilseeds, and to discriminate against cheaper, and superior, non-European biofuels, such as those made from palm oil. It is no longer an environmental or energy policy instead it  is a trade-barrier policy.

On Tuesday 10th September, the European Parliament will vote on the latest revision of this trade-barrier policy. Mrs Corinne Lepage, a Member of the European Parliament from France, is leading a campaign to introduce ‘Indirect Land-Use Change’ (ILUC) criteria into the EU Directive. ILUC is an environmentalist theory that cropland producing biofuels in one place, can somehow lead to greenhouse gas emissions being emitted in another, undefined and unknown, place. This theory has been criticised by scientists and academics from across the world – America, Asia, Latin America, and Europe itself. ILUC is a theory that you cannot see or measure or calculate, and therefore is impossible to quantify.

Yes, it is impossible. But the EU authorities have tried to do it, anyway. Several studies by the EU Commission attempted to find a way of calculating how different types of biofuel might have different ILUC effects. The results were embarrassing for the EU, and very revealing for everyone else. Every study came up with a  totally different figure – many were wildly different, and some even could not agree whether a crop would produce a net positive or negative outcome. This showed, better than anything, that ILUC cannot be measured accurately.

Scientists know that anything that cannot be seen or measured, like ILUC, relys on modeling. This modeling, done by sophisticated computer programmes, in turn relies on the people who set the parameters for those computer models. These people all have prejudices, and those prejudices then majorly impact the results of the modeling. This is neither a fair nor an independent method of scientific calculation, and should not be used for policymaking.

MEP Corinne Lepage wants to introduce these ILUC factors, in order to discriminate against palm oil – because it is better, and better priced, than the European competitors. Mrs Lepage knows that the ILUC models will be led to discriminate in this way, and that Malaysian palm oil will be unjustly treated. It is no wonder, with these attitudes, and with such a poor approach to legislation, that many countries are discussing how to challenge the EU’s energy policies under the rules of the World Trade Organisation. In fact, Argentina has already filed a complaint against the EU in Geneva.  The EU likes to preach about free trade, but MEP Lepage does not want to practice it.

The vote in the European Parliament is expected to be close. On one side, Green NGOs, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They are supporting Mrs Lepage, and the call for an unscientific and discriminatory ILUC factor. On the other side, are the biofuels producers and the scientific community – in the last few months alone, studies have emerged from the USA, from France, from Germany and Sweden and Denmark and Brussels itself, all of them explaining that ILUC is not legitimate and should not be allowed.

NGOs vs scientists. It is not the first time that palm oil has been in this position: the negative campaigning in Europe against palm oil is not new. This time, the choice is clear – the MEPs in the European Parliament can vote for an ILUC policy that is untested, inaccurate, unscientific, and will probably lead to them losing a case in the World Trade Organisation. Or, they can vote against ILUC, and welcome in palm biodiesel and other fuels, that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fight climate change, improve land-use efficiency, and reduce the use of fossil fuels in Europe.

Palm oil as a biofuel can be a big part of the solution in Europe, just as it is here in Malaysia. But it requires European politicians to see past short-term protectionism and glitzy NGO campaigns: they need to vote down ILUC, and instead build a true renewable energy policy that is sound, scientific and sensible and that will bring long-term benefits.