Booming Palm Oil Demand Fueling Climate Crisis

Booming Palm Oil Demand Fueling ClimateCrisis

8 November 2007

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Indonesia — Indonesia’s peatland forests are a ticking “climatebomb” and Kit Kats, Pringles and other palm oil-based products are lightingthe fuse, global conservation group Greenpeace said on Thursday.

Clearing forests that grow on the country’s thick carbon-storing peatlandreleases more than a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, the group saidat the unveiling of its “Cooking the Climate” report in Singapore.

“A handful of international corporations are ultimately responsible forslashing and burning Indonesia’s peatlands,” said Emmy Hafild, executivedirector of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“Some of the best-known brands are literally cooking the climate.”

Greenpeace estimates that peatlands in Riau Province, on Sumatra island,store the equivalent of one year’s global greenhouse emissions — an estimated14.6 billion tonnes of carbon.

About three million hectares (7.5 million acres) of these peatland forestsare earmarked for conversion to palm oil plantations over the next decade,Greenpeace said.

This “climate bomb” is ticking loudly in the run-up to December’sUnited Nations’ climate change meeting in Bali, which is expected to debateforests’ role in accelerating — and slowing — climate change, said Sue Connor,Greenpeace International Forests Campaigner.

“(If the Riau peatlands are cleared) it would wipe out any chance wehave of keeping the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius,” shesaid, referring to a threshold given by the UN’s climate panel.

Palm oil is used in anything from body lotions and toothpaste to chocolatebars, crisps and as a component of biofuels, such as biodiesel.

It is the world’s second most popular edible oil after soyoil.


The report names multinationals such as Unilever, Nestle and Procter &Gamble, the makers of brands such as Flora margarine, Ben & Jerry’s icecream and Kit Kat chocolate bars.

Greenpeace says the companies are implicated in causing rainforestdestruction in Southeast Asia.

But just as fans of the companies’ chocolate bars and ice creams might notrealize their snacks’ global environmental impact, the companies were often alsoin the dark, Connor said.

While the link between peatland clearance and carbon emissions is wellestablished, opaque global supply chains and lack of forest law enforcement inIndonesia make it impossible for end-users to guarantee their oil has come fromplantations on legally cleared peat forests.

Greenpeace’s recent investigation in Riau found one of Indonesia’sten-largest palm oil refiners, Duta Palma, had violated Indonesian law byclearing trees growing on peat deeper than the limit of three meters (10 feet)set by presidential decree, Connor said.

“The palm oil industry is out of control,” she said.

“There’s no way for the end user to know whether the oil comes fromdestructive sources or not… None of the oil is segregated by traders.”

Even companies that are members of industry watchdog the Roundtable onSustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), whose goal is to verify sustainably grown palm oil,cannot be certain of the provenance of the product they are buying, she said.

“At the moment there is no certified oil. The rules are very weak.”

Some of the companies named in the report are RSPO members.

Unilever, for example, is president of the board.

“Unilever was one of the founders of the RSPO — an industry-ledinitiative set up in co-operation with the conservation organization WWF in2003,” the company says on its Web site.

Procter & Gamble isn’t a member.

“We have not yet come up with a way to measure the sustainability ofrenewable materials or crops, such as wheat, coffee or palm oil,” thecompany says on its Web site.

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