UN says palm oil destroys forests, indigenous cultures in Indonesia, Malaysia
November 27, 2007

Europe's demand for supposedly eco-friendly biodiesel is fueling destruction of biodiverse rainforests and threatening indigenous populations in southeast Asia, warns a new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In its annual 'Human Development Report 2007/2008' [PDF] report, UNDP says that leading palm oil producers Malaysia and Indonesia have taken serious missteps in seeking to meet the European Union's ambitious targets for biofuels.

"Oil palm can be grown and harvested in environmentally sustainable and socially responsible ways, especially through small-scale agroforestry... However, largescale mono-cropping plantations in many countries do not have a good record. And much of the recent surge in palm oil production has taken place on such plantations," said the report.

Oil-palm plantations in Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Satellite image courtesy of Google Earth.

"The expansion of plantation production has come at a high social and environmental price. Large areas of forest land traditionally used by indigenous people have been expropriated and logging companies have often used oil palm plantations as a justification for harvesting timber."

The report notes that as global cultivation of oil palm has doubled over the past decade, that forests in Malaysia and Indonesia have been rapidly converted for plantations. Much of this expansion has occurred on carbon-rich peatlands, resulting in massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Due largely to emissions from forest conversion and destruction, today Indonesia is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

UNDP reports that palm oil imports are expected to reach 3.6 million metric tons by 2020.

"The European Union has to carefully consider the implications of internal directives on energy policy for external human development prospects," stated the report.

Recent articles on palm oil

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mongabay.com (November 26, 2007).

UN says palm oil destroys forests, indigenous cultures in Indonesia, Malaysia.