I’ve just returned from a lightning visit to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, where I was a guest of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC). From 1987 to 1990 (more than twenty years ago, I’m horrified to say) I lived in Malacca, Malaysia, and worked as Managing Director of a British Joint Venture textile company (our partner was the Tabung Haji, the Malaysian Pilgrim’s Bank). The company employed around 300 people, and I was the only Westerner. I sometimes reflect wryly on that, when political opponents assume that because I’m eurosceptic, I am necessarily chauvinistic and xenophobic, and hate foreigners. I recall that I did have inter-racial issues to contend with, but they were all between my Malay and Chinese employees.
It was a huge pleasure, therefore to be invited back to Malaysia, though as so often with business trips, I saw no more than the insides of the airport, the taxi, and the Marriott Putrajaya.
You may ask whether it was worth twenty-four hours on planes to spend 45 minutes speaking to the MPOC. I think it was, and having left the UK on Sunday morning, I was back at my desk in Brussels around 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday.
I had the mid-afternoon session of the conference, and an audience of around 400 (including, as I later found out, a representative of the EU delegation in KL). The two previous post-lunch speakers were extremely erudite and knowledgeable, but also very technical, so the audience was ready for some rabble-rousing, which was a good thing as my subject was “The Global Climate Change Debate and Tax-Payer Funded Environmentalism”.
Despite all the work I’ve done over the years on climate, I’d never taken an overview of the reasons why the public is losing patience with man-made global warming, and I found it interesting and instructive. The audience responded very positively, and I noticed heads nodding at several points.
The MPOC is very concerned about the EU’s environmental score-card for bio-fuels, which purports to measure both the emissions savings, and the impact of changes in land use associated with each bio-fuel. The MPOC clearly feels that the criteria applied, while theoretically objective, in fact reflect prejudices based on the propaganda of green NGOs (which, as we recall, are mostly funded by the EU itself — which means funded by you, the tax-payer). The NGOs constantly say that use of palm oil for bio-fuels forces up food prices, that palm oil development drives deforestation and contributes to CO2 emissions, and that palm oil cultivation threatens endangered habitats and in particular the orang utan. These points, it seems, are greatly overstated or just plain wrong (and I may cover them in another blog). But the symbiotic relationship between green NGOs and the European Commission means that the NGOs carry greater weight than diplomatic or commercial interests — and more weight than a fair, unbiased analysis would justify.
As a result, palm oil bio-fuel suffers severe discrimination in the EU as against other food crop bio-fuels.
And what does all this matter to East Midlands voters, I hear you ask? Well probably two thirds of the packaged food products they buy in the supermarket contain palm oil (which in nutritional terms is remarkably similar to olive oil). And palm oil is an excellent prospect to substitute for the transfats which are currently believed to represent a threat to health. So perhaps it deserves someone to speak up for it.
Meantime I wait for Leo Hickman of the Guardian to call up and ask me who paid for my air fare. A clue: it wasn’t the tax-payer.