Palm oil: once you pop, you can't stop

Posted by jamie — 8 November 2007 at 10:55am - Comments

Vast oil palm plantations are destroying rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia

KitKat, Flora and Pringles are among the brands linked to destruction of forests and peatlands for palm oil © Greenpeace/Oka Budhi

If, as you read this, you're tucking into a KitKat or dipping into a tube of Pringles, you might be interested to know that they feature in our new report about the impact of the palm oil industry on tropical rainforests and climate change. Along with Flora margarine, these products contain palm oil which is linked to the destruction of forests and peatlands in Indonesia. As the report shows, it's a recipe for disaster.

The manufacturers of these products - Nestlé, Procter and Gamble, and Unilever - are sourcing their palm oil from suppliers who aren't picky about where they site their plantations. As the volunteers at the Forest Defenders Camp in Sumatra have seen, this includes tearing up areas of pristine forest then draining and burning the peatlands beneath.

Indonesia's peatlands act as huge carbon stores so replacing them with plantations them not only threatens the amazing biodiversity, including the rare Sumatran tiger, it also releases huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They only cover 0.1 per cent of the land on Earth, but thanks in part to the activities of the palm oil industry they contribute 4 per cent to global emissions. If expansion of the palm oil industry continues unabated, that figure can only rise.

All this is a little unnerving as the three companies mentioned above are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a group of retailers, manufacturers and suppliers who also include multinational suppliers Cargill and ADM. The aim of the group is to create clear standards for producing sustainable palm oil but at present those standards are far too weak to ensure that forests and peatlands are not destroyed to meet growing demand for palm oil.

What's to be done? Well, we've suggested a strategy. If the Indonesian government introduces a moratorium on forest and peatland destruction, that will provide a chance to develop long-term solutions and prevent further emissions from deforestation. And our eyes are fixed firmly on the UN climate meeting in Bali next month, where the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol will be discussed. With deforestation accounting for up to a fifth of global emissions, including financing for forest protection as a core part of the plan to tackle climate change is essential.

We have more information about the problems with palm oil, and if you still have questions try the palm oil FAQ. What we don't have are any actions or practical steps you can take (yet) but this is an issue we'll be working on for some time to come. We will be asking retailers and food companies to stop trading with those suppliers who are trashing the forests and peatlands of Indonesia, and when that happens we will be asking for your help.

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About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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