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The WWF morphing into a rampant caricature of itself over palm oil

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Written By Dan Scott
Friday, 25 May 2012

As a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the WWF held out to the world that it was taking a proactive role in steering the palm oil industry in the direction of conservation and responsible growth. However, in recent months, this green group has by its own inimitable, exquisitely ironic and confused handling of the palm oil issue morphed into a rampant caricature of itself!


On the one hand, says WWF campaigner and RSPO representative Adam Harrison, ‘Palm oil is nine times more productive than soy, so nine times less land is needed to produce a ton of oil.’ (see: 

This observation explains why palm oil is really not that land-intensive, which is probably why the tiny country of Malaysia could become the world’s largest producer of palm oil for over a hundred years. Despite cultivating the crop for over a century, Malaysia has managed to retain forest cover of 59.5% (CIA World FactBook 2011), certainly no mean feat when juxtaposed with countries of the developed west.  

In fact, the FAO has found that the rate of forest change in Malaysia declined from 0.66% in the years 2000-2005 to 0.42% in the years 2005-2010 (FAO Global Forest Resource Assessment 2010). Certainly nowhere close to the apocalyptic picture of massive deforestation painted by green groups.

Yet, in the next breath, the WWF have shot themselves in the foot and auctioned off their principles in the puzzling,  contradictory and constantly vacillating positions that they have adopted over palm oil from time to time. 

For instance, when Senator Nick Xenophon introduced his ill conceived and ill fated Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labeling Palm Oil) Bill 2010, the WWF, apparently enveloped in the pleasantly dimmed lights of cuckoo land, where the rights of developing nations are abrogated below that of animals, jumped on the proverbial bandwagon to support the Bill. Needless to say, Xenophon’s Bill failed, rejected to their credit, by the Australian Government and the Australian Parliament for the obvious violations of the spirit of WTO Rules that the Bill would have occasioned.

In recent days, the WWF has remained true to form, rocking like an out of time metronome to the beat, it seems, of their reflexive hostility to all things palm oil. Where once their organizing principle was the conservation of nature, now it appears to be strangely opposing probably the most benign edible oil crop in the world environmentally speaking!  When the EPA, ascribed an arbitrary emission saving level of just 17 % to palm oil based biodiesel compared to fossil diesel, which conveniently leaves palm biodiesel just short of the threshold 20% required to qualify as a biofuel under the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS 2) Ruling, it raised the ire of palm oil producers the world over for the unabashed huckstering by the EPA for American produced edible oils long marinated in anti-competition bias such as soy and corn. 

A report in The Blog of the Legal Times is instructive: “The EPA said in the proposal that palm oil-based biofuels failed to meet an emissions-reduction threshold that fuel blends must reach to join the program. The proposal’s public comment period, which ended on April 27, drew hundreds of submissions from Neste, the Indonesian Palm Oil Board, Malaysian Palm Oil Council and other supporters of palm oil, as well as its detractors, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, National Wildlife Federation and World Wildlife Fund.”

The double dealing of the RSPO founding WWF can be mildly put down as just “stuff happens” and “people change.” There’s a more scatological way to put it but you get the drift. With these series of betrayals by the WWF its RSPO partners can have very little reason to have faith in a partner who appears keener in perpetuation the myth of palm oil transgressions to grease their gravy train rather than to genuinely work towards fulfilling the lofty aims of the organization that it helped set up!

The thing is, you want to scream, the EPA’s ruling fails a simple fact check as it is so diametrically at odds with the reality on the ground.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Board, for instance  established through research published in peer reviewed journals that palm oil based bio-diesel has GHG savings of 60.4% when produced without methane capture (the same type the EPA assessed), and as high as 74.7% when produced with methane capture.

The EPA in assuming indirect land use change for cultivation of palm oil results in deforestation and emission of CO2 of up to 57% of the total emission for palm biodiesel has erroneously based their palm biodiesel modeling on false assumptions.

Such a model ignores the sequestration effects of oil palm plantations acting as planted forests and the Land Use and Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector, as reported officially in a published document submitted to the United Nations UNFCC (see
Since Malaysia had already accounted for emissions from the palm oil sector in its commitment to emission mitigation at the UNFCC, by balancing the using of carbon removal capacity of the LULUCF sector, this double counting by the EPA has added back emissions already accounted for in Malaysia’s UNFCC commitment.

There is a Latin maxim, reduction ad absurdium, that applies to this sad and slow demonstration of human fallibility! The irresistible conclusion is that the WWF is either a wuss or just smug, greedy and frighteningly detached from the realities on the ground. 

Smallholders, who account for more than 40% of global palm oil production, live in the real world, not in the rarified world of bloodless abstractions and lofty proclamations of intent on the one hand which serves only to conceal the true agenda – the desperate angling for funds from gullible governments, corporations and the public. 

Why else would the WWF, despite their histrionics and public profession of faith in the RSPO, place full page ads headlined “Help Save the Lipstick” in Newsweek magazine that solicit donations and funds to help the WWF save the world from the perils of palm oil? Is the RSPO just a tool in the hands of a crafty “green” group that enables them to rake in the loot? THE END


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