Massive biofuel program to go ahead despite int’l concerns

Massive biofuelprogram to go ahead despite int’l concerns

6 February 2007

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Indonesia– Internationalcriticism of Indonesia’s massive biofuel development program will not affect theproject, which is expected to turn the country into one of the biggest biofuelproducers in the world, says an official.

The director of the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s research anddevelopment unit, Nenny Sri Utami, said in Jakarta on Monday that the plan toturn more than five million hectares over to growing the feedstock for thebiofuel plants would go ahead as planned.

Nenny, who is also a member of the government biofuel development committee,said that allegations being made by some international non-governmentalorganizations to the effect that the program would endanger the environment weregroundless.

A 2006 presidential decree on the development of the biofuel sector statesthat only idle or critical land can be used for the development ofbiofuel-feedstock plantations. Feedstock is produced by, among other plants, oilpalms, sugarcane and jatropha.

As part of the project, the government has allocated 5.25 million hectares ofidle land for the growing of the basic feedstock for bioethanol and biodieselproduction.

About 1.5 million hectares will be allocated for oil palms, 1.5 millionhectares for jatropha, 0.75 million hectares for sugarcane and about 1.5 millionhectares for cassava.

Under the program, Indonesia is expected to be able to produce the basiccomponents for biofuel production, including fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) andabout 3.95 million tons of ethynol a year by 2010. At this production level,Indonesia would be one of the world’s biggest biofuel producers.

To date, the Forestry Ministry has set aside a total of 5.06 million hectaresin 13 provinces to be used for such plantations.

“Looking at the list, we can see that none of these areas are located inprotected forests,” Deka Mardiko of the Forestry Ministry told TheJakarta Post on Monday.

“We are working together with the National Land Agency, AgricultureMinistry and Home Ministry to check whether the areas are located in forests ornot,” Deka said. “If anyone is caught clearing land in a protectedarea, even if he wants to grow biofuel feedstock, he will be charged withillegal logging.”

The Forestry Ministry’s director of renewable energy, Ratna Ariati, said sheunderstood the concerns of the international NGO’s over the biofuel program.

“They are not only afraid of the environmental consequences arising fromland clearance for biofuel-feedstock plantations, but also that production willdisrupt food supplies as many of the plants that provide biofuel feedstock arealso edible,” Ratna said.

The International Herald Tribune says that scientists around the worldare taking a second look at what biofuel really has to offer, with manyquestioning the environmental feasibility of the current system used fordeveloping green energy.

In an article published last January, the Herald Tribune said thatrising demand for palm oil in Europe had brought about the razing of huge tractsof Southeast Asian rain forest and the overuse of chemical fertilizer there. Notonly that, the space for the expanding palm plantations was often created bydraining and burning peatland, which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions intothe atmosphere.

One NGO that is concerned with environmental issues, Friends of the Earth,estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia between 1985 and 2000was caused by new oil-palm plantations, while in Indonesia, the amount of landdevoted to oil palm has increased by 118 percent in the past eight years.

One study says that the draining of the peatland used for biofuel plantationsin Indonesia releases 600 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere a year andthat fires contribute an additional 1,400 million tons annually. According tothe researchers, the total, 2000 million tons, is equivalent to 8 percent of allglobal emissions caused annually by burning fossil fuels.

In response, Ratna said that the government would strictly abide by the basicprinciples of environmental protection.

“We are doing it for the sake of the environment. It would be nonsenseif we were to destroy the forests in the process,” Ratna said.

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