Mahathir defiant over EU palm-oil ban

Mahathir defiant over EU palm-oil ban

New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday (Friday) said he would join Indonesia in opposing pressure from the European Union on the palm-oil industry. 

Mahathir, 92, during a state visit to Indonesia, said the neighbours, which together account for around 85 per cent of global production, faced “similar problems”.

In a blow to those who hoped the returning prime minister would relax his predecessor Najib Razak’s nationalistic stance on palm oil and prioritise the environment ahead of the powerful sector, Mahathir condemned the EU action. 

“We have to fight together. Their argument about deforestation by businesses is not valid … Our palm oil is threatened by Europe and we need to oppose them together,” Mahathir told a press conference beside Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The European Union is their largest palm-oil export market after India but it has opted to cut back on its use to meet 2030 climate goals to slow rampant deforestation. 

Palm oil is used in biscuits, chocolate, shampoo and numerous other products but the EU specifically plans to phase out the use of palm oil in transport biofuels by 2030. The EU has also set a 32-per-cent target for the proportion of renewable energy produced by 2030. 

“European countries used to be covered with forests but they’ve cut them down and nobody argues with them about it. But when we clear land they say it pollutes the climate,” said Mahathir in reference to tree-felling that began in Roman times. 

There is an 85-per-cent loss of biodiversity in an ecosystem when plantations are created from the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

Rainforest and peatland are cut and burned to create plantations. Peat is extremely rich in carbon so when it is burned stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Palm oil has pushed Indonesia to third in the list of the world’s greenhouse-gas producers after the US and China and has removed the habitats of numerous endangered species, like the clouded leopard and Sumatran orangutan. 

A recent report on global deforestation said Indonesia has seen severe deforestation but this fell sharply last year, as heavier than average rainfall cut fire losses and government protection of peat forests took effect. “One year’s data does not make a trend,” said Putera Parthama, director general for climate change at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry. “But we believe we are starting one.”

 

Palm oil is obviously too big to fail for Malaysia. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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