Indonesia ranks right behind the United States and China in the lineup of the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas emitters. It’s not because of smokestacks or freeways, but massive deforestation starting in the 1990s — 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 agency’s 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.’s estimates of palm oil-related emissions are seriously exaggerated.
Yet there is growing evidence that, if anything, the E.P.A.’s 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.