EU Commission backs controversial sustainable palm oil scheme

BRUSSELS Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:10pm EST

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has approved a scheme that would certify as sustainable transport fuel made from palm oil, condemned by environmental groups as one of the most damaging sources of biodiesel.

The Commission made public on Tuesday a decision taken last week to endorse the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil scheme, which means the palm oil producers it licenses can qualify for subsidies.

"Palm oil is driving deforestation, wildlife loss, community conflicts, and accelerating climate change. Instead of greenwashing palm oil, the EU should outright ban its use as a biofuel," said Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

Concern that some biofuels create more problems than they solve led to a major policy shift in September when the EU executive announced a proposal to limit how much biodiesel and bioethanol could be made from food crops.

Last month, it announced new rules to encourage a shift away from first-generation biofuels, blamed for stoking food price inflation, forcing forest clearance and draining of peat land. The aim is to move towards a second generation of fuels made from waste or algae, for instance.

The Commission's own research has shown palm oil has the highest emissions of any biofuel when so-called ILUC factors - the indirect land use change caused by using it for fuel - are considered.

"Emissions from peat conversion have a larger impact on the overall emissions attributed to oil crops, particularly for palm oil, than for bioethanol crops," a Commission document released in October said.

The roundtable is an association of hundreds of palm oil growers, processors, traders and distributors, as well as some non-governmental organizations working in palm-oil producing nations, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Commission spokeswoman Marlene Holzner said the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil scheme had been judged "suitable."

She added that the EU's Renewable Energy Directive already prohibits the destruction of forests to grow palm oil or other biofuel crops.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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