UK: Planned palm oil power stations may impact Global South


Thanks to recent publicity many people are aware of the concerns of palm oil in foodstuffs, but surprisingly few are aware that it could be used to fuel power stations in the UK too. UK-based campaigner Zenith Milner tells us more.

On the face of it this sounds like a greener cleaner way of producing electricity, but this may be a misconception. Using land for growing fuels puts increasing pressure on land for food, raising food prices, which affects us all, but particularly in Africa and other areas in the Global South where food scarcity is already such a problem.

The oil would mainly come from Malaysia and Indonesia where vast tracts of rainforest are cleared to make way for the oil palm plantations, to be then shipped across the world to power stations in Europe. There are already 1,800 biofuel power stations in Germany - they must not be allowed to be built in the UK too.

cartoon of power station and palm trees by chris bisson

A vision of the future? Palm oil power stations in the UK.

© Chris Bisson

In this International Year of Biodiversity it is even more incredible that the UK government should allow this deadly trade, yet alone subsidise it to the tune of tens of millions of pounds per station, as the resulting loss of biodiversity would be huge.

Further, there are no guarantees that the oil can be produced ethically. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which developers use as evidence that the palm oil is ethical produced, is considered inadequate by some commentators. Friends of the Earth said: "The certification of palm oil by the RSPO does not halt deforestation" rather it "makes the consumers feel good and encourages increased consumption."

The British government also hides behind its own system of assessing the oils, OFGEM. But this is inadequate too, based on outdated and sketchy criteria. There are no teams of inspectors properly trained to monitor the production of palm oil.

The result of using rapidly increasing areas of land for fuel decreases the land available for food. Action Aid released a recent report on this: "In 2008, food prices soared, pushing a further 100 million below the poverty line and driving 30 million more into hunger. There is wide agreement that diverting food into fuel use was responsible for at least 30% of the price rises.” One billion of the world’s 6.8 billion people now live in hunger according to the UN. No wonder Jean Zeigler from the UN has termed biofuels a "crime against humanity."

Ironically the British government is heavily subsidising these plants to the tune of tens of millions of pounds each - if it didn't, they wouldn’t be viable.

Biofuel issues in the UK are not transparent recently concluded that more openness is needed on biofuels and that "the history of the EU's biofuel policy is one in which ambition has run ahead of the evidence."

However, the African Call for a Moratorium on Agrofuel Development clearly calls for:
"No agrofuel targets for Governments in Europe and the rest of the world" and "an international moratorium on agrofuel exports, until the true social and environmental costs can be assessed, and disaster averted."

As you can see, the British government is behind with the science. The African moratorium believes "the agrofuel push, rather than the seductive "carbon neutral" solution it claims to be, will exacerbate Africa's climate and food security problems even more".

Maybe the new UK government could be persuaded to look at what NGOs and concerned individuals are saying, and then called upon to quickly revise their policies. Hundreds of concerned groups and individuals have called for a moratorium on agrofuels as well as the African moratorium.

This scandal, where UK produces cheap electricity without concern for those already in poverty and hunger should not continue silently with resistance from relatively few politicians, citizens, environmentalists and humanitarians. The problem is that so few people are aware of the scandal, even those who live in the places that these palm oil power stations are planned for. One MP admitted that she did not know about this issue, even though she was working in the Department of Energy and Climate Change herself. And when asked about its policies on the biofuel power stations, the government has been very slow to answer... if they answer at all.

In short, these palm oil power plants further aggravate the world’s existing problems. It is vital to stop them from obtaining planning permission.

There are palm oil power stations planned for a number of locations in the UK including Newport, Wales. Protestors appeared after awareness had been raised, and the plan was subsequently turned down by concerned councillors. But the company involved, Vogen, has now suddenly appealed. We want to show the Planning Inspector that there are many people who object to this, when they find out about it.

If you want to help, you can comment on the appeal to the Planning Inspector before the deadline of May 25 2010. They can be submitted electronically by email quoting reference APP/G6935/A/10/2121775 or through the planning website.

You can also write to Chris Huhne, who is the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to ask the new government to reverse these disastrous policies and halt the plans for biofuel power stations in the UK.

Related links:

Indonesia: Greenpeace celebrate Nestlé victory


Greenpeace are celebrating victory in one of their latest campaigns as Nestlé commit to stop using products resulting from rainforest destruction.

Greenpeace ask Nestlé to give rainforests a break


kit kat thumbThis Easter Greenpeace are campaigning to give the rainforests and orangutans of Indonesia a break by not buying palm oil from destroyed forests.

Asia: BBC documentary reveals the increasing problem with palm oil


orangutans Last night the BBC's Panorama programme threw fresh light on the growing palm oil crisis in Asia. The undercover film crew, led by reporter Raphael Rowe, discovered evidence of palm oil companies deforesting and planting plantations on protected areas.

Indonesia: Greenpeace sets up base camp in rainforest


greenpeace campaignersGreenpeace announced on October 27th that it has set up base in the heart of the Indonesian rainforest and will remain there for several weeks in order to bring urgent attention to the role that deforestation plays in driving dangerous climate change, a critical issue to be addressed at the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in December.

Rainforests IN PICTURES


clouds reflecting in water Daniel Beltra's award winning photographs from the Amazon, Congo, and Indonesia show us the beauty and fragility of the world's rainforests.

Chocolate and cosmetic brands stand up against palm oil


picture of two young orangutans playing in a tree Cadbury's New Zealand follow Lush Cosmetics by eradicating palm oil from their products.

The carbon debt of palm oil


map of oil palm locations in asia World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) scientists have published data on the storage of carbon in palm oil plantations.

Sustainable Palm Oil gets boost in China


picture of land cleared for palm oil Major China-based producers and users of palm oil have announced they intend to provide more support for sustainable palm oil. This is seen as an important boost for efforts to halt tropical deforestation, as well as an incentive for the UK to up its game on sourcing sustainable palm oil.