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Greenwashing the palm oil industry

Greenwashing the palm oil industry

Deceit and global warming: Greenwashing the palm oil industry
November 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.

Tracing palm oil back to its source plantations in Riau, the report found that Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever – are sourcing their palm oil from suppliers who are responsible for forest destruction. Palm oil is used in products as diverse as candy bars, cosmetics, and biodiesel.

“Trade in palm oil by some of the world’s food giants and commodity traders is helping to detonate a climate bomb in Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands,” the report said. “Efforts to prevent dangerous climate change will not succeed unless this and other industries driving forest destruction are brought under control.”

The report, titled “How the palm oil industry is cooking the climate,” said that some consumer products companies may not be aware of their role in rainforest destruction due to the murkiness of the supply chain.

Destroyed peat forest. Image courtesy of Greenpeace

“One RSPO member, a major food retailer, has complained to Greenpeace that efforts towards sustainability are hampered because: ‘the global palm oil industry is unable at present to provide anyone with evidence of traceability beyond processor, to plantation level,'” stated the report. “Consequently, consumer companies who manufacture products using palm oil have virtually no way of knowing whether or not the palm oil they are using is from rainforest destruction and conversion of peatlands.”

Greenpeace said that 3 million hectares of forest (7.4 million acres) are slated to be slashed-and-burned for oil palm plantations in Sumatra over the next ten years. Conversion of forests and peatlands in Indonesia is responsible for roughly 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Overall Indonesia is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China and the United States.

The report comes as the palm oil industry is increasingly defensive about its role in deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Industry groups have spawned a series of web sites (i.e. and and pamphlets claiming that palm oil is carbon-neutral and therefore helps fight global warming, despite scientific data showing that the clearing of rainforests and draining of peatlands for oil palm plantations actually results in significant emissions. While palm oil can be produced in environmentally-friendly ways — especially when plantations are established on deforested wastelands — in the current rush many firms are simply converting natural forests and peatlands.

The Greenpeace report says stopping peatlands fires and development in Indonesia could cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 1.3 gigatons per year. Rehabilitating degraded peatlands could yield another 500 million tons of CO2 savings. Under an initiative to be discussed at the upcoming U.N. climate meeting in Bali, Indonesia may qualify for carbon credits for offsetting some of these emissions.

How the palm oil industry is cooking the climate

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