by Antonio Pasolini on November 28, 2007

The sustainability of biofuels was in the spotlight last week as industry leaders and environmentalists met in Kuala Lumpur on 21 and 22 November to create strict green parameters so that palm oil producers could label their products as eco-friendly. Palm plantations in Southeast Asia have been the cause of much concern as it has been replacing vast amounts of rainforest and destroying wildlife. The region is the source of about 85 per cent of global palm oil production. The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil in Kuala Lumpur was attended by organizations such as Friends of the Eartn and WWF who want producers to commit to preserve forests and fauna, avoid conflicts with indigenous people and improve palm oil yields. However, issues relates to proper enforcement of the law have been pointed out as possible obstacles to regulate the palm oil industry in the region.

British environmental group Biofuelswatch rightly points out that “biofuels should not automatically be classed as ‘renewable energy”. Many aspects of its production have to be factored in to weigh up whether they actually benefit the environment and more research needs to be done. The group suggests that “all emissions rising from the production of a biofuel be counted as emissions in the country where the fuel is actually used, providing a clearer accounting of environmental costs.”

As Peder Jensen, of the European Environment Agency summed the situation up earlier this year in an article published by the International Herald Tribune, “If you make biofuels properly, you will reduce greenhouse emissions. But that depends very much on the types of plants and how they’re grown and processed. You can end up with a 90 percent reduction compared to fossil fuels — or a 20 percent increase.”

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