Monday, December 3, 2018

Palm oil gets a blast

Palm oil got a blast from researchers at Purdue University and Russia in a new report that says forests are being cut down to make way for palm oil production.

This is happening despite a promise to stop deforestration.

Satellite data from 2001-2016 indicates that in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea about 31 million hectares of forest cover – or about 11 per cent of total land cover - has been lost. 

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), formed by retailers, banks, investors and environmental advocates in 2004, and the Palm Oil Innovation Group, a similar organization founded in 2013, developed guidelines that allow for sale of palm oil as sustainable. That label means ensuring that forest conservation value is assessed and steering clear of high-carbon stock areas.

Yet in areas where sustainable practices are required, more than 38 percent of the land has been deforested. That compares with 34 percent where there is no sustainability requirement.

“If you need to produce palm oil, you need to remove forest. That’s what we’re seeing,” said Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, research associate at the Forest Advanced Computing and Artificial Intelligence Lab of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University.

Global use of palm oil went from 37 million metric tons in 2006 to 64.2 million in 2016 - in part because it is cheap and, for a time, enjoyed a good-for-you reputation.

It is a direct competitor with canola and soybean oils.

“Oil palms are grown in some of the most sensitive and ecologically important forests in the world. Protecting them is important,” Gatti said. 

“But we’ve seen that even when operations are certified as sustainable, there is still significant forest loss. It seems that there is no way to sustainably produce palm oil to meet today’s global demand.”

Gatti and colleagues from Purdue and Russia’s Tomsk State University published their findings in the journal Science of the Total Environment.