While palm oil expansion continues to cause deforestation and massive greenhouse gas emissions, the certification system for sustainable palm oil (RSPO) just finished its annual meeting. I have been going to these meetings for the past couple years and it is interesting to see how perceptions of Greenpeace have changed over the years.

Indonesia Forest DestructionThere have been years when nobody wanted to talk to or seen to be associated with Greenpeace.

Palm oil producers have been afraid that we would expose their bad practices and consumer companies have seen that we were not as excited by the 'green' RSPO standard as they have been. When the first RSPO certified palm oil entered the market in November 2008, Greenpeace launched a report to show that the company was still clearing forests and peatlands.

So the positive approach that Greenpeace took at the most recent RSPO meeting in Singapore was slightly different.

We presented the Scorecard on Palm Oil Producers to show that there really are companies out there that take the necessary steps to break the link between palm oil and deforestation.

While some RSPO members continue to destroy forests and peatlands, habitat of the critically endangered orangutan, others have policies in place to protect forests. The top 3 companies, from Brazil, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, all have policies in place that commit them to producing palm oil in a truly responsible way.

Greenpeace recognises that producing truly sustainable palm oil is no easy task and acknowledges the efforts of producers who are really committed to trying to change their destructive practices.

The company at number 3 in our scorecard, Indonesia’s Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), presented their Forest Conservation Policy last year after an extensive Greenpeace campaign. This company has developed, with the help of Greenpeace and the Tropical Forest Trust, a methodology to distinguish forested areas from areas that could be developed for palm oil without harming the environment or impacting climate change.

New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. from Papua New Guinea, our number 2, is looking into a similar approach, while Brazil’s Agropalma, the top ranking producer in our scorecard, has had a policy to stop deforestation since 2001.

If other companies would commit to the same, or even more and if the RSPO would also adopt this approach, this could really mean that deforestation for palm oil would finally stop. 

This year there is a unique opportunity for the RSPO to finally take the needed measures to move towards a credible certification system: the principles and criteria of the RSPO are being reviewed.

There has also been an ongoing discussion about adding full protection of peatlands and a measure to curb the greenhouse gass emissions from deforestation for palm oil in the RSPO criteria.

Unfortunately, it seems there is still strong opposition from the producers, especially the Malaysian companies wanting to expand into the carbon-rich peatlands of Sarawak.

If the RSPO fails to move towards a credible standard, consumer companies such as Unilever and Kraft will need to take additional measures to ensure that they do not buy palm oil from deforestation.

So, while Greenpeace showcased the good practices at this year’s RSPO meeting, it is clear that only a few companies are taking the right steps and this is not enough. Especially while a new threat emerges: the growing expansion of palm oil at the cost of Africa’s rainforests.

For example, GAR is one of the main investors in Golden Veroleum (Liberia) Inc.(GVL), a company with large operations in Liberia. GVL is currently facing allegations that it is violating RSPO rules, clearing areas without the proper consent of the local communities.

Human rights activists have filed a complaint with the RSPO, and the RSPO has demanded that the company cease all operations.

The question now is whether GVL will listen to the RSPO, and also its own investor. Or, if in a new and challenging environment like Liberia, the battle for responsibly produced palm oil has to start all over again.

Chances are that next year’s RSPO meeting will see Greenpeace back in its old role: exposing how palm oil expansion is still causing deforestation and climate change.

With your help we hope that we’ll be able to add more names to our list of companies that are really taking positive steps towards producing palm oil that doesn’t come at the cost of the forests or the climate.

Suzanne Kroger is the coordinator of Greenpeace’s global palm oil campaign. She can be found on Twitter at @suzanne_gp