FoE Malaysia: Position paper on Malaysia's national biofuel policy
Summary prepared by FoE Flanders & Brussels for the protest at SPE Harrelbeke 22/4/2007
SAHABAT ALAM MALAYSIA
POSITION PAPER ON MALAYSIA’S NATIONAL BIOFUEL POLICY
“BIOFUELS SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED AS A RENEWABLE OR A SUSTAINABLE SOURCE OF ENERGY”
Sahabat Alam Malaysia, (FoE Malaysia) believes that our dependence on fast depleting fossil fuels has caused environmental problems such as the emissions of greenhouse gases and water pollution, as well as economic uncertainty due to the escalating price of petroleum and gas.
But it is imperative that we assess our way forward correctly. The promotion of sustainable and renewable sources of energy is inevitable, however, we must develop the appropriate criteria and standards in assessing the claim of sustainability and renewability for different energy sources. Otherwise we risk the same environmental, economic and social crisis caused by our present methods of energy use.
In our view, liquid biofuels cannot be considered as sustainable or renewable, in particular if they are produced from dedicated agricultural plantations.
We believe that the energy crisis the world is facing today is caused by both our dependence on the wrong kind of fuels and our extreme consumption levels. Present energy consumption patterns are not sustainable in terms of source and intensity. This issue is especially pressing in the developed countries in the North like the United States, Western Europe and Japan.
The only way to make the use of renewable energy sources meaningful at a global scale is for developed nations to first reduce their consumption level.
Today, scientists and leaders from developed countries have already called for Africa to be turned into a biofuel production zone under the guise of addressing global warming and providing many African nations with sustainable development. Since oil palm can produce four times as much biodiesel per hectare as rape, and our labour costs are certainly much cheaper than Europe’s, we can expect that Malaysia will also be turned into such a zone to satisfy the unsustainable demands of an ecologically damaging lifestyle.
For Malaysia to devote a significant part of our cropland to satisfy the non-sustainable lifestyle of developed countries is unwise.
The manner in which the petroleum industry has been monopolised by interests originating in the North shows the grave implications of producing biofuels for export. This will put production and conservation in competition with the demands of consumers in affluent countries.
Producing oil palm for affluent countries will certainly have a catastrophic social impact, aggravating existing land conflicts between local communities and oil palm companies, most notably in Sarawak, not to mention other ecological impacts and irrational land-use patterns.
The rapid expansion of oil palm production in the country from 1985 to 2000, has been directly responsible of reducing the diversity of our agricultural production. With the advent of palm oil biodiesel, we can expect that this diversity will further decline, increasing the vulnerability of our economy and smallholder farmers who are contracted to cultivate the crop.
Instead of economic independence, we may well be subjecting ourselves to future political domination by consumer countries if we so choose to be a major global biofuel producer.
In view of the expansion of oil palm plantation for biodiesel production, we would like to highlight the many adverse environmental impacts of such large scale plantations. The following are some of the known impacts of huge oil palm monoculture and processing.
Already, between 1985 and 2000, the development of oil-palm plantations in Malaysia has been responsible for an estimated 87 percent of deforestation. The global significance of the forest destruction in terms of biodiversity and climate change should not be underestimated – but it is the local communities who most immediately feel the impact of its destruction.
Wildfires are not a common natural phenomenon in tropical rainforest regions. However, plantations are significantly drier than forests and are therefore very vulnerable to forest fires.
Land clearing causes considerable increases in topsoil run-off, disturbs stream-flow and increases sediment loads in rivers and streams.
In the oil palm plantation sector, around 25 different pesticides may be used, but because usage is not controlled or documented, monitoring is very difficult. The most commonly used weed killer in Southeast Asia's oil palm plantations is paraquat dichloride. This herbicide is very toxic, and may be fatal.
Agricultural workers are regularly exposed to this toxic substance during handling and mixing, spraying and working in freshly-sprayed fields. In addition, the pesticides used in intensive agriculture, will also end up in soil, groundwater or surface waters.
Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) Pollution
Hundreds of processing facilities operate throughout the countryside of Malaysia, causing pollution from effluent.
Unsubstantial CO2 Saving Potential of Biofuels
Although biofuels do offer some reductions in greenhouse emissions, these are by no means substantial, due to the fossil energy required to produce the fuels. Certainly when compared to reducing private vehicle travel, insulation of homes in colder climates, forest conservation and suchlike.
Unresolved Plantation Labour Issues
In Malaysia, some 400,000 people are directly employed by the oil palm sector. Besides health problems faced by plantation workers due to heavy and repeated exposure to agro-chemicals, the terms of plantation labour are still very poor in this country.
With all the data above, it is difficult to accept that the expansion of oil palm plantation for the production of export-oriented biodiesel can actually meet the two visions of introducing biofuels as sustainable and viable sources of energy and enhancing the prosperity of all stakeholders in the agriculture and commodity-based industries through stable and remunerative prices.
For all the above reasons, we strongly urge the Malaysian government to re-consider its decision in turning Malaysia into a major biofuel producing country.
Friends of the Earth Flanders & Brussels (formerly For Mother Earth) is a member of Friends of the Earth International