Norway’s parliament banned on 13 June government purchasing and use of palm oil-based biodiesel as a study by a Norwegian NGO claimed that the product is up to three times worse for the climate as fossil diesel.
The decision by the parliament called on Norway’s government to “impose requirements through regulations to the Public Procurement Act that biofuel based on palm oil or by-products of palm oil shall not be used”, according to the Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN).
The resolution further stated that the regulatory amendment should come into effect as soon as possible and it instructed the government to advocate the fuel industry to abandon palm oil biofuels.
“Norway’s decision is an important step towards removing environmentally-damaging goods from the market. It also demonstrates the need for a serious reform of the world’s palm oil industry,” said RFN’s head of the policy campaign department Nils Hermann Ranum.
“It is now incumbent on other consumer countries to follow suit. In particular, the EU should take urgent steps to reduce the consumption of commodities, such as palm oil biodiesel, that are linked to rainforest destruction and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and human rights violations.”
Ranum added that “to the best of his knowledge”, Norway was the first country in the world to ban all use of palm oil biofuel by public entities.
Public procurement is the process in which governments use public funds to acquire services and goods from companies.
In June 2016, Norway passed a resolution to make the government’s public procurement policy deforestation-free to ensure the state would not contribute to rainforest destruction.
The latest decision came on the same day that RFN published its report, ‘For Peat’s Sake’, written by low carbon fuel policy expert Chris Malins, which highlights the climate risks of palm oil grown on peatlands.
“There is a large body of evidence that because of indirect land use change (ILUC), palm oil biodiesel is worse for the climate than the fossil fuel it replaces – perhaps several times worse,” the report read.
The paper argues that tropical peatland forests act as carbon stores and sinks, with Malaysian and Indonesian peatlands holding an approximate 70 gigatonnes of carbon and binding a further 25M tonnes of carbon annually.
Based on figures from the European Commission, the CO2 released from these massive stores as a result of conversion to oil palm plantations causes the resulting biofuel to have a total carbon footprint nearly three times higher than fossil diesel, according to the study.
Another review from the International Council on Clean Transportation quoted in the RFN report found that, on average, establishing an oil palm plantation on peat soil would lead to CO2 emissions of 106 tonnes annually over the first 20 years as the revealed peat surface begins to decompose.
The total area of oil palm plantations founded on peatland has skyrocketed in the past two decades, rising from the under 500,000ha in 1990 to 4M ha in 2015, most it on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, according to the RFN.