Palm oil found in a variety of products from shampoos, to ice cream, lipsticks and more. With demand continuing to grow rapidly, we need to shift to sustainable methods of harvesting palm oil today.
Palm oil, the world's most popular vegetable oil is used for food products, detergents, cosmetics and – increasingly – biofuel. Global production of palm oil has doubled over the last decade.
In fact, worldwide demand for palm oil is expected to double again by 2050 to 240 million tonnes. New plantations are being developed and existing ones are being expanded in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries, as well as in Africa and Latin America.
But this expansion comes at the expense of tropical forest – which forms critical habitat for a large number of endangered species.
Palm oil is a major part of the economy in the tropical areas where it’s grown, helping to lift people out of poverty. The major drawback of oil palm plantations is that they are developed in low lying, wet, tropical areas – exactly where rainforests grow and endangered species such as orangutan and tigers once thrived.
Clearing land for palm oil plantations has led to widespread loss of rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond. Destruction of forests also drives climate change. Learn more about the impacts here.
Large-scale conversion of tropical forests to oil palm plantations has a devastating impact on a huge number of plant and animal species. Oil palm production also leads to an increase in human-wildlife conflict as populations of large animals are squeezed into increasingly isolated fragments of natural habitat.
The habitats destroyed frequently contain rare and endangered species or serve as wildlife corridors between areas of genetic diversity. Even national parks have been severely impacted.
Burning is a common method for clearing vegetation in natural forests as well as within oil palm plantations. The burning of forests releases smoke and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, polluting the air and contributing to climate change.
Fires in peat areas are particularly difficult to put out. The smoke and haze from these blazes have health consequences throughout Southeast Asia.
A palm oil mill generates 2.5 metric tons of effluent for every metric ton of palm oil it produces. Direct release of this effluent can cause freshwater pollution, which affects downstream biodiversity and people.
While oil palm plantations are not large users of pesticides and fertilizers overall, the indiscriminate application of these materials can pollute surface and groundwater sources.
Erosion occurs when forests are being cleared to establish plantations, and can also be caused by planting trees in inappropriate arrangements. The main cause of erosion is the planting of oil palms on steep slopes.
Erosion causes increased flooding and silt deposits in rivers and ports. Eroded areas require more fertilizer and other inputs, including repair of roads and other infrastructure.
The practice of draining and converting tropical peat forests in Indonesia is particularly damaging, as these "carbon sinks" store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world.
Additionally, forest fires used to clear vegetation in the establishment of oil palm plantations are a source of carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change. Due to its high deforestation rate, Indonesia is the third-largest global emitter of greenhouse gasses.
Whether you're a consumer or a company, buy sustainable palm oil. Companies that buy palm oil – and their customers – have a big role to play in making sure it’s produced responsibly, without causing harm to forests, wildlife, climate and communities.How are your favourite brands performing?
WWF works on a number of fronts to transform the palm oil industry, including:
Defining, implementing and promoting better practices for sustainable palm oil production through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
Encouraging companies to use certified sustainable palm oil in the products they make and sell
Eliminating incentives for palm oil production that lead to the destruction of forests