Palm oil: Cooking the Climate

Once you pop, you can't stop

Feature story - November 8, 2007
If, as you read this, you're tucking into a KitKat or dipping into a tube of Pringles, you might be interested to know that these products contain palm oil that is linked to the destruction of forests and peatlands in Indonesia. As our new report "How the palm oil industry is cooking the climate" shows, it's a recipe for disaster.

The sharp contrast between the pristine rainforest and the area destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations in Indonesia.

The manufacturers of these products - Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever - are sourcing their palm oil from suppliers who aren't picky about where they site their plantations. As the volunteers at the Forest Defenders Camp in Sumatra have seen, this includes tearing up areas of pristine forest then draining and burning the peatlands.

Indonesia's peatlands act as huge carbon stores so replacing them with plantations them not only threatens the amazing biodiversity, including the rare Sumatran tiger, it also releases huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They only cover 0.1 per cent of the land on Earth, but thanks in part to the activities of the palm oil industry they contribute 4 per cent to global emissions. If expansion of the palm oil industry continues unabated, that figure can only rise.

All this is a little unnerving as the three companies mentioned above are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a group of retailers, manufacturers and suppliers who also include multinational suppliers Cargill and ADM. The aim of the group is to create clear standards for producing sustainable palm oil but at present those standards are far too weak to ensure that forests and peatlands are not destroyed to meet growing demand for palm oil.

We have more information about the problems with palm oil, and if you still have questions try the palm oil FAQ. We will be asking retailers and food companies to stop trading with those suppliers who are trashing the forests and peatlands of Indonesia, and when that happens we will be asking for your help.

Global problem, Global solution?

What's to be done? The Indonesian government should urgently introduce a moratorium on forest and peatland destruction, which will provide a chance to develop long-term solutions and prevent further emissions from deforestation. And our eyes are fixed firmly on the UN climate meeting in Bali next month, where the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol will be discussed. With deforestation accounting for up to a fifth of global emissions, including financing for forest protection as a core part of the plan to tackle climate change is essential.

"At next month's UN climate conference in Bali, political leaders must wake up to the fact that we need to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and make them fast," said Pat Venditti, head of Greenpeace International's Forest Campaign. "Protecting peatlands and other forest areas from destruction is one of the most simple, cost-effective insurance options against global warming."

The international scientific consensus on climate change is that avoiding the worst impacts of climate change demands global warming be kept as far as possible below 2 degrees Celsius. Emissions of greenhouse gases need to have peaked globally by 2015 and then begin a rapid decline.  

We need governments meeting in Bali to agree to negotiate a new funding mechanism to protect the world's remaining tropical forests as a critical component of the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol. The resulting reductions in emissions from deforestation must be additional to cuts in emissions from burning fossil fuels.

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Read updates from our activists at the Forest Defenders Camp in Indonesia.

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