Monday, 7 December 2009

When is a resource renewable?

Its wrong to say that the oils extracted from palm and jatropha that would be used to power the biofuel plant proposed for Avonmouth are renewable (‘Renewable Fuel, But How Green Is it?’, Post Dec 5). Plant oils can be renewable in principle but in practice are only renewable resources if they are sustainably managed and subject to widely accepted, independently verified certification. The fact that the plan is to use imported, non-recycled oils, from plants intensively grown as a monoculture using artificial fertilisers, in very poor, increasingly deforested countries, automatically counts against them for a start!

We should be learning from our experience with other resources, such as soil, wood or fish. We’ve made some progress here. These are, in principle, renewable but certainly are not if taken from the environment at a rate greater than they are produced or if they are are managed in an irresponsible way. We know that the Soil Association organic certification means good, responsible soil management – and we have the Forestry Stewardship Council certification for sustainable wood and Marine Stewardship Council certification for more responsible fishing.

In contrast to the progress with soil, wood and fish there is no proper certification for oil from jatropha plants – and the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil has been very strongly criticized for certifying palm oil from companies responsible for deforestation and peatland destruction, for decimating biodiversity (including orangutan populations) and for violating the rights of communities, including indigenous peoples (details). Surely a city with genuine green ambitions would not permit a power station that uses these oils??

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