Lack of interest in eco-certified palm oil among buyers threatens to undermine efforts to improve the environmental performance of the industry, reports the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Analysis by the environmental group shows that only 1 percent of the palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been purchased since it became available in November 2008. Certified palm oil carries a 8-15 percent premium over conventional palm oil.
“So far, around 1.3 million tons of certified sustainable palm oil have been produced, but less than 15,000 tons have been sold,” said David McLaughlin, vice president of agriculture for WWF. “This sluggish demand from palm oil buyers, such as supermarkets, food and cosmetic manufacturers, could undermine the success of sustainability efforts and threatens the remaining natural tropical forests of Southeast Asia, as well as other forests where oil palm is set to expand, such as the Amazon.”
The findings are a black mark for green groups that have campaigned for environmental standards for palm oil production, suggesting they have failed to drum up interest among buyers.
In an effort to address the “sluggish performance” of RSPO-certified palm oil, WWF said it will issue a report to name and shame companies that are failing to support the initiative.
Forest conversion for oil palm in Sumatra in May 2009
“WWF will assess the world’s major users of palm oil over the next six months and publish a Palm Oil Buyer’s Scorecard highlighting whether or not companies have supported sustainable palm oil and fulfilled their commitments to purchase it,” said WWF in a statement.
Environmental groups and scientists say that oil palm production has driven large-scale destruction of rainforests across southeast Asia over the past two decades, triggering the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions and imperiling rare species, including the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan.
Some activists have criticized the RSPO, saying the industry-led initiative fails to ensure environmental stewardship. Greenpeace, Sawit Watch, and Friends of the Earth have presented evidence to suggest that some RSPO members continue to clear primary forests and carbon-dense peatlands for new plantations. The industry has acknowledged some problems with RSPO, but says it is working to improve standards.
WWF played a key role in helping establish the RSPO. The group is calling for “all companies buying palm oil to make public commitments that they will use 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil by 2015; to make public their plans with deadlines to achieve this goal; and to begin purchasing certified sustainable palm oil immediately”.