ICYMI – Belgian Palm Oil Expert: Belgium Boycott Undermines Sustainable Development

Belgian agronomist and co-author of the Palm Oil Monitor, Pierre Bois d’Enghien, wrote in Le Soir, Belgium’s leading French-speaking daily newspaper, that Belgium’s decision to ban palm oil biofuels was undermining the cause of sustainability that Europe so desperately seeks.  

In his piece, Pierre Bois d’Enghien looks at how this decision is lacking environmental and scientific common sense point of view, and admonishes Belgian Minister of Environment and Climate, Zakia Khattabi for promoting rapeseed and sunflower, both of which are inferior oilseeds with a blemished environmental and biodiversity footprint.

Key excerpts –

The Minister probably does not know that the oil palm, in agro-industrial plantations, produces more than 6 tons of oil per hectare and per year (up to 10 tons in test plots); that’s 5 times more than rapeseed (which produces between 800 and 1,200 liters of oil / ha). This means that one hectare of palm trees in operation equals 5 ha of rapeseed released in Europe for another use: cultivation, reforestation, etc.”

About thirty plant species are present in an oil palm plantation, how many in a rapeseed or sunflower plantation? 2, 3 species? If there is a desert of biodiversity, it is in these rapeseed or sunflower plantations that the Minister wants to protect.”

Not only does banning palm oil lack solid environmental and social justifications, it also breaches international trade rules, Mr Bois d’Enghien highlights that “Indonesia has also initiated several cases at the WTO against European policies that hamper the trade in palm oil.”

You can read the Le Soir story here, in French, and below an English translation.

Carte blanche: boycotting palm oil is not promoting sustainable development

By Pierre Bois d´Enghien, agricultural engineer, master of environmental sciences, specializing in palm oil and agro-industrial plantations, co-author of the “Palm Oil Monitor” website.

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Zakia Khattabi has announced that palm oil-based biofuels will be banned in Belgium from 2022. This decision makes no sense from an environmental point of view.

At the beginning of April and well before the publication of the Royal Decree in the Belgian Official Gazette, the Federal Minister of Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and Green Deal, Zakia Khattabi, announced that she was strengthening the criteria for the sustainability of biofuels: those based on soya and palm oil will be banned in the transport sector from 2022. This decision is surprising because it comes well before the date set by the European Union of 2030.

Several passages in the Minister’s press release attract my attention.

First of all, the Minister indicates that “biodiesel producers must source themselves from other raw materials”. Indeed, other biofuels exist on the market, for biodiesels, based on rapeseed, sunflower, animal fats. For bioethanol, from wheat, corn, beetroot, etc.

The Minister indicates that she wants to ban palm oil-based biofuels for environmental and biodiversity criteria, thus replacing them with the sources cited above. Are they nevertheless more beneficial for the environment and biodiversity than palm oil?

Comparisons without appeal

The Minister probably does not know that the oil palm, in agro-industrial plantations, produces more than 6 tons of oil per hectare and per year (up to 10 tons in test plots); that’s 5 times more than rapeseed (which produces between 800 and 1,200 liters of oil / ha). This means that one hectare of palm trees in operation equals 5 ha of rapeseed released in Europe for another use: cultivation, reforestation, etc.

As regards fertilizers and phytosanitary products, the balance is also favorable; palm trees require 100 times less phytosanitary products than soybeans per tonne of oil produced!

Fertilizers are applied rationally based on precise foliar analyses. When rapeseed requires 230 kilos of fertilizer per tonne of oil produced, oil palm requires only 120 …

Let’s talk about biodiversity. About thirty plant species are present in an oil palm plantation, how many in a rapeseed or sunflower plantation? 2, 3 species? If there is a desert of biodiversity, it is in these rapeseed or sunflower plantations that the Minister wants to protect.

What about carbon fixation? As a tree-like plant, the oil palm stores carbon from the air in a sustainable manner: around 2 tonnes C / ha / year, on average over a 25-year cycle, like a mature secondary forest! Rapeseed, 300 kilos, or 6 times less …

Decidedly, the comparison is very cruel.

No justification or scientific basis

The problem of deforestation has become commonplace; deforestation has of course been often (but not systematically) a prerequisite in the history of the establishment of palm plantations, as for other plantations elsewhere …

But the pace has declined sharply since 2015 (the figures from the WRI and Global Forest Watch are indisputable) but the NGOs, from which the Minister seems to be inquiring, are still calling for a total ban on palm oil.

Indonesia, one of the largest producers of sustainable palm oil (ISPO, RSPO, ISCC) will also very soon receive, as part of the REDD + program, the sum of USD 56 million from Norway, for having reduced deforestation and degradation of its forests in 2016 and 2017. Traceability to these plantations is well organized, obtaining these sustainable oils is easy and can become a legal criterion.

Isn’t it time to congratulate the oil palm planters for their efforts, and in particular, the Indonesians?

Not only does banning palm oil lack solid environmental and social justifications, it also goes against many foreign trade rules.

Recall that Indonesia has also initiated several cases at the WTO against European policies that hamper the trade in palm oil.

Also in December 2019, Indonesia, with the participation of other producer countries, asked the WTO Dispute Settlement Body to open consultations with the European Union, regarding the European RED II directive; Indonesia considers that this directive and the delegated regulation that complements it, violate the TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) and GATT agreements.

The “Amsterdam Declaration Partnership” that you signed in January 2021 formally states that Belgium is committed to promoting, not boycotting, sustainably produced palm oil and eliminating deforestation in its supply chain.

You sign this declaration and a few months later, you already renounce your signature.

Boycotting palm oil does not promote the sustainable development of this crop. By demonizing it, you discourage planters committed to sustainable development and push them to abandon their good resolutions, to sell to less demanding customers.

If you really want to promote sustainability in this production, then you have to consume it!

Your current position has no scientific basis.

Share