Demand for agricultural land is at the heart of the mass destruction of the world's forests. The main cause of forest loss in Indonesia, and the greatest threat to the continued survival of orangutans in the wild, is the conversion of forests to oil palm plantations.
Orangutans share their forest home with countless other critically endangered species, including Sumatran tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Agricultural expansion is also linked to other causes of biodiversity decline including hunting, poaching, human-wildlife conflict, illegal logging, and forest fires. Tropical forests are also crucial carbon sinks, so losing these habitats would be catastrophic in terms of the global fight to prevent dangerous climate change.
Yet, shockingly, the UK government is considering offering subsidies to power stations to burn biofuels - including palm oil - for heat and power. And what's more, this is being funded through our fuel bills!
These subsidies, called Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are the government's way of supporting renewable energy technologies, as part of plans to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Nobody would deny that we need more investment in renewables, but, as well as supporting clean technologies such as wind farms, ROCs also finance electricity generation from the burning of bioliquids such as palm oil.
On top of the threat that this increase in demand for fuel crops poses to tropical forests and biodiversity,some biofuels have been shown to actually lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions!
Bioliquids - what is the Government proposing?
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is proposing to support the burning of up to 400,000 tonnes of bioliquids per year. A large proportion of this would be palm oil, as it is by far the cheapest vegetable oil. This target equates to 110,000 hectares of oil palm plantations. And simply asking them to exclude palm oil from the subsidies won't solve the problem - as palm oil is by far the most productive vegetable oil crop in the world, even more land would be put at risk if alternative bioliquids were used to meet this target.
Used cooking oil can also be classified as a bioliquid, and is eligible for the same subsidies as palm oil. It is considered to be the most 'climate friendly' biofuel, but is already in very short supply and in high demand, for example for transport. The volumes available could only meet a tiny proportion of our energy needs.
Until the government can differentiate between ‘good' biofuels and those that are worse for the climate than the fossil fuels they are replacing, then no subsidies should be offered for any bioliquids.
Renewable energy support should go to genuinely clean and sustainable renewables, such as appropriately sited wind, solar and tidal energy, and not to destructive bioliquid electricity.