Sustainable palm oil may not be so sustainable

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Palm oil is found in products ranging from food to cosmetics and detergents. Demand for the oil has surged in the last decade, with global usage soaring from 37 million tons in 2006 to an expected 72 million tons in 2018. As the global palm oil market continues to grow, it is urgent to quantify the economic and environmental costs and benefits of current “sustainable” palm oil practice, especially in Southeast Asia. Industry has developed a “sustainable” palm oil certification process, but what are the real benefits of this certification?

In a short communication, research associate Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, professor Jingjing Liang (Forestry and Natural Resources) and colleagues from Tomsk State University, Russia, briefly discuss why palm oil certifications may have failed as an effective means to halt forest degradation and biodiversity loss. Using multiple new datasets, the researchers analyzed recent tree loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, and discovered that, from 2001 to 2016, about 40% of the area located in certified concessions suffered from habitat degradation, deforestation, fires, or other tree damage. In fact, certified concessions have been subject to more tree removals than non-certified ones. They also detect significant tree loss before and after the start of certification schemes. In other words, the sustainability certification for palm oil appears to be meaningless.

Gatti, R. C., J. Liang, A. Velichevskaya, M. Zhou (2019). Sustainable palm oil may not be so sustainable. Science of the Total Environment, 652, 48-51.

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