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Article about palm oil and the RSPO

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  • almuthbernstinguk
    http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp? file=/2008/1/1/lifefocus/19561783&sec=lifefocus Eco-conscious palm oil By HILARY CHIEW, 1st January 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008

      Eco-conscious palm oil

      By HILARY CHIEW, 1st January 2008


      Oil palm companies are subjecting themselves to scrutiny to meet
      consumer demand for eco-friendly palm oil.

      PALM oil is heading for certification – the first tangible sign of a
      commitment towards sustainable production of the versatile yet
      controversial commodity.

      The first certificate is expected to be issued by the first quarter
      of 2008, after the call for environmentally and socially responsible
      production of the crop came five years ago.

      Buyers are waiting anxiously for the certification as they have
      promised to supply certified palm oil to their clients – oil
      refiners, food manufacturers, consumer goods producers, retailers and
      even biofuel plant operators – who in turn have set deadlines to
      phase out the use of palm oil from uncertified sources.

      A worker inspecting oil palm fruits at a factory in Sepang, Selangor.
      Efforts are now being made to certify palm oil as being sustainably
      Environmental campaigns in the West linking palm oil production to
      orang utan extinction, peat fires and displacement of indigenous
      communities have resulted in consumer boycotts of supermarket chains
      and demand for sustainable palm oil.

      The march towards biodiesel production using palm oil has also met
      with warnings that the so-called green fuel could be a net emitter of
      greenhouse gases and accelerate, instead of stalling, climate change.
      There is also concern that the biofuel rush could come at the expense
      of food production, given that palm oil is the world's most important
      edible oil.

      At the recently-concluded fifth meeting of the Roundtable on
      Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Kuala Lumpur, the verification and
      implementation mechanisms of the certification system were presented
      to some 500 participants from 30 countries representing major players
      in the palm oil supply chain, from growers to retailers, banks,
      investors, and pressure groups from environmental and developmental

      The certification process will authenticate growers' claims that
      their products are derived from plantations that follow the Principle
      and Criteria (P&C) set by the initiative. It will also enable
      manufacturers to assure consumers of product "traceability" through

      Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil in the world commodity
      market, with 37 million tonnes produced last year. With its
      membership accounting for almost 40% of palm oil production and
      utilisation in the world, RSPO is regarded as an influential force
      for sustainable palm oil.

      But several issues remain unresolved after five years of
      deliberations. Expansion of oil palm estates on fragile ecosystems
      and displacement of indigenous communities are two contentious issues
      that divide supporters and critics of RSPO.

      Indonesia overtook Malaysia as the largest oil palm producing country
      with an output of 16 million tonnes last year. The area of land under
      oil palm plantation in Indonesia tripled between 1995 and 2005. Close
      to six million ha of plantation has been developed and millions more
      are planned.

      A report by the Indonesian Forest Ministry and European Union states
      that to meet the rising world demand for palm oil from 20 million
      tonnes to 40 million tonnes by 2020, some 300,000ha of new estates
      will be needed each year. It added that inevitably, most new estates
      would come up in wetlands, as the more desirable dry lands are
      already occupied.

      Such expansion plans are largely driven by the demand for biofuel in
      rich nations. In early 2007, the European Union endorsed a minimum
      target for biofuel to constitute 10% of its transport fuels by 2020.

      Greenpeace has called for a moratorium on deforestation of peat swamp
      forests for oil palm expansion. Its political advisor for energy
      Wolfgang Richert says just like the campaign on soybean in the Amazon
      which got three major traders agreeing to stop expansion in the
      Brazilian rainforest, Greenpeace will continue to pressure RSPO
      members to commit on this important move.

      "It's crucial for RSPO to get rid of partial certification.
      Otherwise, it'll just be another green-washing exercise, undermining
      its credibility."

      Richert also notes that Principle 7, which forbids new planting on
      primary forests or areas of High Conservation Value from 200, is

      "You can argue that most Indonesian forests are not primary forests
      anymore. So, RSPO will actually (end up) certifying palm oil produced
      from deforestation of secondary forests. RSPO members should commit
      to develop on the millions of hectares of abandoned, degraded land
      instead," he says.

      Friends of the Earth (FOE) highlights that as RSPO only gives
      sustainability certifications for each plantation, other plantations
      in a company could remain unsustainable.

      "Inevitably, palm oil companies will use a sustainability
      certification to green-wash, even though it will by no means
      guarantee that the company is guilt-free of environmental and social
      violations. The RSPO must refuse to certify palm oil coming from any
      company still involved in destructive palm oil production," said Paul
      de Clerck, FOE corporate campaigns co-ordinator.

      FOE Europe chapter is campaigning against the EU biofuel policy,
      cautioning that the demand for palm oil will drive conversion of
      forests to plantations on a scale far beyond what the RSPO could
      guarantee is sustainable. It has called for a moratorium on European
      financial subsidies and targets that encourage the development and
      production of large-scale biofuels.
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