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SEI brief

How the EU Can Revise its Biofuel Policies to Promote ‘Sustainable’ Palm Oil Cultivation in Southeast Asia

This policy brief, which draws on three forthcoming SEI publications, identifies potential revisions to the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (EU-RED) to ensure more responsible and sustainable palm oil production.

Rasmus Kløcker Larsen, Maria Osbeck / Published on 15 October 2012

Larsen, R.K., and M. Osbeck (2012). How the EU Can Revise its Biofuel Policies to Promote 'Sustainable' Palm Oil Cultivation in Southeast Asia. SEI Policy Brief.

Europe’s already substantial imports of palm oils for food, detergents and cosmetics have been further boosted by demand for liquid biofuels, partly because palm oils replace other food oils diverted for energy consumption. Forthcoming revisions of the EU-RED should take into account the impacts of this expansion.

Government legislation in producer countries is not sufficient to ensure sustainable production. Palm-oil producing countries in Southeast Asia often have low capacity to enforce government legislation. For example, implementation of integrated management of river basins and catchments, and general environmental regulation, is often weak or non-existent.

The sustainability criteria in the EU-RED are insufficient to ensure responsible production. The sustainability criteria are ill-suited to the socio-ecological realities and production histories in local contexts in Southeast Asia. For instance, extensive conversion of peatlands took place prior to the 2008 baseline set in the EU-RED (and is still taking place). Market-based sustainability standards accredited under the EU-RED, meanwhile, differ radically in quality, and few include procedures to safeguard the rights of local communities.

Overall, the brief finds that the EU is currently not responsive to the demonstrated impacts of palm oil production. This is reflected in the weak sustainability criteria in the EU-RED, as well as the fact that EU delegates responsibility for impacts to voluntary market standards.

Download the policy brief (PDF, 670kb, or high-res PDF, 3.2MB)

SEI authors

Rasmus Kløcker Larsen

Team Leader: Rights and Equity

SEI Headquarters

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