June 18, 2018

Minister brands EU palm oil phase-out deal a misstep

( - Although a newly-reached EU deal on completely phasing-out the use of palm oil in biofuels by 2030 is regarded as an improvement on an earlier deal with a proposed deadline of 2021, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya still expressed objections to this ambitious EU deal.

Nonetheless, the minister emphasized that the intervening 12 years before the total phase-out goes into effect give Indonesia - the world’s largest palm oil producer - a fair amount of time to anticipate the numerous consequences of the EU political agreement.

She pointed out, however, that given it is just a matter of time before palm oil is removed as a feedstock for biofuels, this renders the key substance of the EU agreement to phase-out palm oil in transport fuels by 2030 completely irrelevant.

“I have already discussed the new EU move with the foreign minister. We will continue to take consolidatory measures in the wake of the deal's announcement," the minister told (Jun 15) at the official ministerial residence in Jakarta. 

“The phasing-out of palm oil in order to meet the EU’s renewable energy target, despite being pushed back to 2030, is clearly a misplaced move which also sends a bad signal to many other sectors in the world economy,” she added. 

The minister went on to say that the EU’s use of the Paris Agreement as the background for phasing-out palm oil in biofuels is extremely counterproductive, especially in light of the ongoing actions to mitigate climate change being undertaken by Indonesia.

This was a particular reference to the continuing improvements in peat governance taking place under the strong leadership of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. These include the legal enforcement of a ban on new peat ecosystem development alongside law enforcement crackdowns against any peat violations committed in existing concessions. 

The most recent example of this has happened in the Tripa peat swamps situated in the Leuser Ecosystem, as previously reported by (May 9). Home to the world’s densest population of orangutans, these peat forests are consistently targeted for new palm oil development (see video).

In response to this new peat development, the minister is taking law enforcement measures to end the peat violations occuring in the area’s two palm oil concessions - PT SPS-2 and PT Kallista Alam, as also reported by (Jun 7). The following photos show part of the thousands of hectares of remaining peat forests in the Tripa peat swamps.

“There are still fairly significant peat ecosystems that have yet to be developed, some of which are composed of peat forests located in existing palm oil, pulpwood and logging concessions which are no longer legally allowed to be cleared and drained," the Environment and Forestry Minister explained. 

"Of course, some companies are still trying to carry out peat violations, but many law enforcement measures have been taken to stop them,” she added.

“Without the signature of President Jokowi banning new peat ecosystem development, such law enforcement measures could not be implemented, ultimately resulting in massive peat ecosystem destruction like that which occurred under previous government regimes,” she asserted.

Minister Nurbaya also described how these measures not only pertained to peat ecosystems but also to millions of hectares of forested areas lying in non-peat ecosystems which were extensively allocated for palm oil development by the previous government but most of which have not been released for conversion purposes.

“The current prohibition on new peat ecosystem development encompasses a very significant area and includes holding back the previously-planned conversion of millions of hectares of forested areas spread among non-peat ecosystems. This represents real climate action on the part of President Jokowi,” the minister enthused.

On this basis, according to the minister, the EU deal to phase-out palm oil in biofuels is obviously a misstep.

“The EU deal has very clearly not been developed based on a forward-looking decision making process. At the same time, it reflects a lack of insight from the EU in appreciating President Jokowi's painstaking efforts to resist the deforestation and destruction of millions of hectares of forests and peat ecosystems.”