Over 200 Indonesian community leaders speak out against palm oil for biofuels

Hundreds of Indonesian leaders of indigenous communities, farmers’ unions, smallholder organizations, human rights groups and environmental NGOs have signed an open letter to the EU Presidency, Europe’s Heads of State and the President of the Republic of Indonesia against the use of palm oil in biofuels.

The community leaders say that the problems associated with oil palm plantation development are not just environmental such as deforestation and other ecological problems, but are also social issues such as land grabbing, human rights abuses, workers’ exploitation and corruption. They stressed that the Indonesian government continues to use a positive justification for the use of palm oil in biofuels, which will worsen the situation and further exacerbate the problems linked to oil palm plantations in the country.

In January this year the European Parliament voted to remove biodiesel made from palm oil, the highest emitting biofuel in the EU market today, from the list of biofuels that can count towards the renewables target as of 2021. The EU’s renewable fuels policy for 2030 is currently being negotiated between the EU Parliament, the Members States and the Commission. The governments of France, Spain and Italy oppose the Parliament’s decision to end subsidies for palm oil biofuels.

The 236 Indonesian community leaders said: “We agree with the European Parliament’s proposed change of policy. The EU should ensure that renewable energy is only sourced from businesses that are eco-friendly, equitable and respectful of human rights. Palm oil-based biodiesel clearly does not meet these principles, as shown by the emergence of various social, economic and environmental problems.”

Lorelou Desjardins, Senior Policy Adviser at Rainforest Foundation Norway, said: “It is a very positive sign that those who are primarily affected by the palm oil industry finally get a voice. The signatories are very diverse and with this letter they send a clear message to the EU and the Indonesian government: if the global community wants to stop deforestation, stop expansion on peat and human rights violations in producing countries we need to support the European Parliament’s vote and phase out palm oil from biofuels.”

​Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager with sustainable transport NGO Transport & Environment, said: “That drivers are unknowingly the biggest consumers of palm oil in Europe is absurd. Europeans don’t want rainforests in their fuel tanks. Putting an end to subsidising palm biofuels should be a no brainer. It’s baffling that the French, Spanish and Italian governments want to keep forcing drivers to burn palm oil in their cars.” ​

Rolf Schipper, Forest Campaign Leader at Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands) said: “The representatives of the EU member states should truly protect the last remaining rainforests and listen to the needs of the affected communities.”

Sylvain Angerand, Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth France said: “The opening of the Total biorefinery in La Mede is in clear contradiction with France’s commitments. Not only does France let Total import huge amounts of oil palm but also lets them receive public subsidies for destroying the forests. France must change its position. The coming weeks are decisive”.

In 2016 almost half (48%) of all crude palm oil imported into the European Union was burnt in diesel cars and trucks. According to the Globiom study done for the European Commission, palm oil biodiesel is three times worse for the climate than fossil diesel. Deforestation rates from oil palm plantations in Indonesia averaged 117,000 hectares per year between 1995 and 2015.

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