Concerned about the planet? Thinking of running your car on biofuel? Well think again.. Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, as they are torn down in the rush to boost palm oil production for biofuels.
With them will disappear some of the world’s most important wildlife species. More startling is that conservationists believe the move to clear land for palm oil is often little more than a conspiracy, providing cover to strip out the last stands of timber not already lost to illegal loggers.
“When you look closely the areas where companies are getting permission for oil palm plantations are those of high-conservation forest,” said Willie Smits, who set up SarVision, a satellite mapping service that charts the rainforest’s decline. “What they’re really doing is stealing the timber because they get to clear it before they plant. But the timber’s all they want; hit and run with no intention of ever planting. It’s a conspiracy.”
Until now palm oil – of which 83% is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia – was produced for food. But the European Union’s aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, partly by demanding that 10% of vehicles be fuelled by biofuels, will see a fresh surge in palm oil demand that could doom the rainforests.
That is likely to kill off the “flagship species” of wildlife such as the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan of Borneo which are already under enormous pressure from habitat loss.
“In reality it’s over for the tiger, the elephant and the orangutan,” said Mr Smits, who founded the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. “Their entire lowland forest habitat is essentially gone already. We find orangutan burned, or their heads cut off. Hunters are paid 150,000 rupiah [£8.30] for the right hand of an orangutan to prove they’ve killed them.”
“There are bad biofuels in the world and palm oil is often the very ‘baddest’,” argues Ed Matthew, biofuel specialist at Friends of the Earth. “Europe shouldn’t be setting targets until it’s put a mechanism in place to block bad biofuels. Palm oil is one of the cheapest biofuels in the field, but by setting targets it sends the wrong signal for businessmen.”
If you are running your car on biofuels, we would like to hear what you think…