Sustainability Certification Urged for Biofuels

By Published On: March 9, 2007

The massive shift to biodiesel around the globe is uprooting rain forests and indigenous cultures in favor of huge palm oil plantations, according to a growing chorus of nongovernmental organizations. Biodiesel sold in California already comes from a mix of domestic and international sources, Kate Horner, Bluewater Network program associate, told Circuit. However, the percentage from each is unknown because no government agency tracks the source. Because of increased use of biofuels in California, Bluewater Network and other nongovernmental organizations are pressing state regulators to ensure that feedstocks that supply biodiesel and ethanol here do not come from plantations where forests once stood. They also are urging regulators to ensure that bioenergy crops are grown in a sustainable manner. State regulators have expressed an interest in quantitatively analyzing such land-use impacts, according to Horner. However, they have been preoccupied with getting their arms around alternative- and low-carbon-fuel policies. Meanwhile, palm oil production is skyrocketing, especially in Indonesia, a nation striving to produce 262 million liters of it this year, compared to 110 million last year. Much of the palm oil goes to the Netherlands, which has moved aggressively to use biodiesel, according to Horner. Overall, the World Rainforest Movement estimates, Indonesia already has planted 6 million hectares of oil palms and has cleared an additional 12 million hectares of forest land for expanded planting. Ultimately, the nation is planning to plant another 20 million hectares of oil palms. Each hectare is the equivalent of 2.47 acres, so total area devoted to oil palms in Indonesia may someday total 100,344 square miles, an area about the size of Oregon, this nation’s ninth-largest state. Palm oil is also expanding rapidly in other tropical countries across the world – including Uganda, Colombia, Ecuador, and Malaysia – in response to the shift toward biodiesel, according to the movement. Global demand for palm oil is growing at about 4 percent a year. Ethanol production is raising similar concerns. In Brazil, for instance, Via Campesina joined with other human rights organizations February 28 in a statement that said increasing use of land to grow sugarcane for ethanol is threatening food security. Expansion of monoculture agriculture to produce more biofuels feedstocks is not only tightening food supplies but displacing people and exploiting farm workers, who labor under harsh and exploitative conditions. To ensure that feedstocks are grown in a sustainable manner, Horner suggested that the state examine the efforts of the International Energy Agency. The international agency is seeking to develop sustainability certification standards for biofuels based on such factors as impacts on human populations, forests, biodiversity, watersheds, and other factors.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now