Why is Palm Oil Bad for the Environment?

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Palm oil is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced.

The following is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article titled "Social and environmental impact of palm oil".

"In some cases, land has been developed by oil palm plantations without consultation or compensation of the indigenous people occupying the land. This has occurred in Papua New Guinea, Colombia, and Indonesia.

According to a 2008 report by NGOs including Friends of the Earth, palm oil companies have also reportedly used force to acquire land from indigenous communities in Indonesia. Additionally, some Indonesian oil palm plantations are dependent on imported labor or undocumented immigrants, which has raised concerns about the working conditions and social impacts of these practices."

Environmental Issues

"In Indonesia, rising demand for palm oil and timber has led to the clearing of tropical forest land in Indonesian national parks. According to a 2007 report published by UNEP, at the rate of deforestation at that time, an estimated 98 percent of Indonesian forest would be destroyed by 2022 due to legal and illegal logging, forest fires and the development of palm oil plantations.

Malaysia, the second largest producer of palm oil has pledged to conserve a minimum of 50 percent of its total land area as forests. As of 2010, 58 percent of Malaysia was forested."

Palm oil cultivation has been criticized for:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation in tropical areas accounts for an estimated 10 percent of manmade CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
  • Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran elephant, Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran rhinoceros, and the Sumatran orangutan).
  • Reduced biodiversity, including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
  • Cultivating crops on land that belongs to indigenous people in the Sarawak and Kalimantan states on the island of Borneo and the Malaysian state of Sabah.

Water pollution - "In some states where oil palm is established, lax enforcement of environmental legislation leads to encroachment of plantations into riparian strips, and release of pollutants such as palm oil mill effluent (POME) in the environment.

Damage to peatland, partly due to palm oil production, is claimed to contribute to environmental degradation, including four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and eight percent of all global emissions caused annually by burning fossil fuels, due to the clearing of large areas of rainforest for palm oil plantations. Many Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests lie atop peat bogs that store great quantities of carbon. Forest removal and bog drainage to make way for plantations releases this carbon.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace claim that this deforestation produces far more emissions than biofuels remove. Greenpeace identified Indonesian peatlands-unique tropical forests whose dense soil can be burned to release carbon emissions-which are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. Greenpeace argues the peatlands represent massive carbon sinks, and they claim the destruction already accounts for four percent of annual global CO2 emissions. However, according to the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory, at least one measurement has shown that oil palm plantations are carbon sinks because oil palms convert carbon dioxide into oxygen just as other trees do, and, as reported in Malaysia's Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, oil palm plantations contribute to Malaysia's net carbon sink."

If you would like to learn more please consider reading the full article on Wikipedia.