Deforestation for Palm Oil

Page - March 17, 2010
On store shelves around the world, a wide range of products — from from laundry detergents and soaps to crackers and candy bars — include a little-known ingredient called palm oil.

Greenpeace: palm fruit
Workers collect palm fruit at a palm oil plantation owned by the Sinar Mas Group. © Greenpeace / Daniel Beltrá

Greenpeace has shown that the growing demand for palm oil for household products and biofuels is driving the destruction of the Paradise Forests and peatlands in Southeast Asia.

Our report "How the Palm Oil Industry is Cooking the Climate" shows how using this ingredient can often make a recipe for environmental disaster. Another report, "Caught Red-Handed: How Nestlé's Use of Palm Oil is Having a Devastating Impact on Rainforest, the Climate and Orang-utans", exposes the links between Nestlé and palm oil suppliers, including Sinar Mas, that are expanding their plantations into carbon-rich peatlands and rainforests.

Companies like Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, and others are sourcing palm oil from suppliers who destroy pristine forests and carbon-rich peatlands. Greenpeace activists have documented this first hand with research and Forest Defender Camps.

Indonesian peatlands act as huge carbon stores. For example, in Riau province in Sumatra, peatlands store an estimated 14.6 billon metric tons of carbon. If these peatlands were destroyed, the resulting climate pollution would equal that of all the fossil fuel power plants in the world combined for five years!

Palm oil plantation expansion is also linked to the destruction of key habitat for endangered orangutans, Sumatran tigers and other sensitive wildlife.

"Sustainable" Palm Oil?

Some companies have tried to side-step responsibility for the destruction caused by their palm oil use by hiding behind the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  The RSPO is a market group including retailers, manufacturers and multinational palm oil suppliers like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

Even though RSPO corporate members are paying lip-service to forest and peatland protection, the reality on-the-ground is very different. The existing standards developed by the RSPO are not enough to prevent forest and peatland destruction.  Worse, the RSPO has demonstrated an inability to enforce its own standards effectively.  Greenpeace has documented such shortcomings.  One example is detailed in this report.

For now, the RSPO seems to be creating the illusion of sustainable palm oil, justifying the expansion of the industry, forest destruction, and climate pollution. Paradise Forests and the communities and wildlife dependent on them, do not have time to wait for organizations like the RSPO to improve. We need a stop to forest and peatland destruction now.

Is Greenpeace Anti-Palm Oil?

Greenpeace is not against palm oil or the palm oil industry.
We are against the destruction of rainforests and the massive climate pollution that has resulted from the reckless expansion of palm plantations. We believe companies should stop buying and trading palm oil from suppliers linked to  forest and peatland destruction. By doing so, companies will create a market incentive that will translate to better environmental practices by suppliers.

Global problem, Global solution?

Companies should immediately cancel contracts and stop doing business with destructive palm oil suppliers like the Sinar Mas group. Companies should also use their economic and political influence to advocate for policies to end deforestation and protect peatlands from palm oil expansion.

Producing companies should make similar commitments, agreeing to an immediate halt to forest and peatland destruction for palm oil. Producers should invest in techniques that maximize sustainable production of palm oil in existing plantations to make the most of existing cultivated areas. Any new plantations should be cited outside of peatlands, forests or areas that were recently deforested.

The Indonesian government should enact an immediate moratorium on forest and peatland destruction, which will provide a chance to develop long-term solutions and prevent further emissions from deforestation. Industrialized nations like the United States should provide funding to provide the necessary resources to bring Paradise Forest and peatland destruction to zero by the year 2015.

Read more about the Paradise Forests