A Grim Portrait of Palm Oil Emissions (nytimes - Oil Portrait Painting)
†Itís not because of smokestacks or freeways, but massive deforestation starting in the 1990s ó driven In large part by the expansion of plantations for palm oil, an edible vegetable oil used in cooki...
†Itís not because of smokestacks or freeways, but massive deforestation starting in the 1990s ó driven In large part by the expansion of plantations for palm oil, an edible vegetable oil used in cookies, crackers, soap and European diesel fuel.
In January, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed finding that biofuels derived from palm oil feedstocks failed to meet the standards set by the agencyís 2007 renewable fuels mandate. While they were found to have lower life-cycle emissions than conventional gasoline and diesel, palm oil came up short of the 20 percent reduction in related emissions that is required for inclusion in the new biofuel blends.
A public comment period on the finding ended last week after being extended by two months to accommodate the deluge of feedback. Many of the comments submitted came from the palm oil industry, which asserts that the E.P.A.ís estimates of palm oil-related emissions are seriously exaggerated.
Yet there is growing evidence that, if anything, the E.P.A.ís life-cycle emissions calculations for palm oil. were too conservative.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences used socioeconomic surveys, high-resolution satellite imagery and carbon mapping to plot past and future patterns of land conversion for a representative region in Indonesia, the Ketapang district of West Kalimantan Province in Borneo.
The researchers found that about two-thirds of the land outside protected areas in the study region are now leased to oil palm companies. If these conceded lands are converted to palm-fruit plantations at current expansion rates, one-third of the land in the area will be growing palms and intact forests will shrink to less than 4 percent of land cover by 2020.
One of the most striking trends, in terms of emissions, was a shift toward the development of carbon-dense peatlands for palm oil production, the researchers found. Peatland soils store significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Their study said that by 2008, 70 percent of new plantations were being developed on peatlands; it predicted that up to 90 percent of emissions from palm oil plantations will come from peatlands by 2020.
Recognizing the climate dangers posed by the draining of peatlands for cultivation, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a moratorium on the granting of new palm oil concessions in peatlands last year. This does nothing, however, to prevent development on previously allocated leases on peatlands, which make up an estimated 61 percent of all as-yet undeveloped concessions.†
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