Palm oil industry prepares green initiative to counter criticism

January 18, 2008

Global food and consumer goods giants are backing a plan to certify that palm oil is produced in a way that doesn't drive destruction of tropical rainforests, reports The Wall Street Journal. The move comes as the palm industry is facing increasing scrutiny — and consumer backlash — for its practices which scientists say are driving large-scale destruction of forests across Indonesia and Malaysia, resulting in massive greenhouse gas emissions.

To improve palm oil's tarnished image as well a counter claims of "greenwashing" from past failed initiatives, the Malaysia-based Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry consortium of producers and buyers which accounts for about 40 percent of the annual global trade in palm oil, says it will soon introduce a system to certify palm-oil operations that meet strict environmental criteria, according to the The Wall Street Journal's Tom Wright. Compliance will be periodically verified by outside auditors. Plantations established on forested areas destroyed after November 2005 will not qualify for certification.

Nevertheless environmentalists have expressed skepticism, noting that buyers have little knowledge of where palm oil is sourced. A November report from Greenpeace revealed continued forest destruction by RSPO members, while an investigation from Friends of the Earth Netherlands caused Singapore-based Wilmar International to end new plantation development at three of its Indonesian units.

TOM WRIGHT. Firms Back a Plan to Put The Green in 'Green Gold,' The Wall Street Journal January 18, 2008; Page B1.

U.S. biofuels policy drives deforestation in Indonesia, the Amazon
(01/14/2008) U.S. incentives for biofuel production are promoting deforestation in southeast Asia and the Amazon by driving up crop prices and displacing energy feedstock production, say researchers. The best hope for mitigating these damages may lie in the development of next generation of biofuels, specifically feed stocks derived from farm waste, weedy grasses (switchgrass, miscanthus), and fast-growing trees (poplar, sweet gum). Scientists say such "second generation" biofuels offer a higher net energy balance with lower greenhouse gas emissions. Further, such feed stocks can be grown with fewer fertilizer and pesticides, and are viable on marginal agricultural lands so they don't compete with food crops.

E.U. may ban palm oil biodiesel
(01/15/2008) The E.U. may ban imports of certain biofuel feedstocks that damage the environment, reports The New York Times. While Europe aims to supply 10 percent of all vehicle fuel from biofuels by 2020, environmentalists say some biofuels like palm oil are driving the destruction of biologically-rich rainforests and may produce more emissions than conventional fossil fuels.

Is the oil-palm industry using global warming to mislead the public?
(11/23/2007) Members of the Indonesian Palm Oil Commission are distributing materials that misrepresent the carbon balance of oil-palm plantations, according to accounts from people who have seen presentations by commission members. These officials are apparently arguing that oil-palm plantations store and sequester many times the amount of CO2 as natural forests, and therefore that converting forests for plantations is the best way to fight climate change. In making such claims, these Indonesian representatives evidently are ignoring data that show the opposite, putting the credibility of the oil-palm industry at risk, and undermining efforts to slow deforestation and rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenwashing the palm oil industry
(11/12/2007) A new report from Greenpeace alleges that members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil -- an industry-driven initiative to clean up palm oil production -- are using palm oil derived by clearing endangered rainforests and draining carbon-rich peatlands on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

mongabay.com (January 18, 2008).

Palm oil industry prepares green initiative to counter criticism.