Palm oil roundtable breaks emissions logjam

Posted on 05 November 2009

Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil this week agreed to consider implementing voluntary measures to encourage producers and buyers of palm oil to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil this week agreed to consider implementing voluntary measures to encourage producers and buyers of palm oil to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The Roundtable’s 7th annual conference came to a close Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Titled “Moving Ahead in Challenging Times,” the three-day conference drew more than 800 people from inside and outside of the palm oil industry, including buyers and producers.

After several rounds of heated discussion this week, the Roundtable’s Executive Board reached a compromise in which some emissions reduction requirements will be directly incorporated in the Roundtable’s certification standards.

They agreed to further address the issue and hammer out emissions measures related to land use change before the next Roundtable conference in 2010. To this end, they will develop a voluntary framework within which companies will work together to reduce emissions.

This objective received considerable support by producers from outside Malaysia and Indonesia who said they will use this voluntary standard as soon as it becomes available, while committing to stop the expansion of plantations on peat lands.

“This is a move in the right direction,” said Adam Harrison, WWF’s representative on the RSPO Executive Board. “We encourage companies to embrace emissions reduction standards once they become available and do their part to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.”

The conference also focused on the frustration by producers concerning the slow uptake of certified sustainable palm oil by buyers. The sluggish market prompted WWF to publish the Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard on Oct. 28, a project that assessed the performance of 59 European retailers and manufacturers buying palm oil.

The Scorecard showed that the majority of European palm oil buyers are failing to buy certified sustainable palm oil, despite its availability and the previous commitments by many companies to purchase it.

The Scorecard was presented and widely discussed at the conference. It was praised by producers and buyers alike as a positive vehicle for bringing much needed transparency to this growing market and showing companies buying palm oil that they are expected to do their part in transforming the palm oil market.

The growing demand for palm oil is adding to the already severe pressure on remaining rainforest areas of the world. The loss of forest in Indonesia is threatening the survival of species such as the orang-utan, the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant. Forest loss and the draining of peatlands for palm oil plantations is also contributing to climate change and displacing local people who rely on the forest for food and shelter. Palm oil is one of the world’s fastest expanding crops in Southeast Asia as well as West Africa and South America.

It is because of threats like this that WWF worked with other NGOs and the palm oil industry to set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2003. Since then WWF has worked with the industry to ensure that the RSPO standards contain robust social and environmental criteria, including a prohibition on the conversion of valuable forests. Certified Sustainable Palm Oil has been available since November 2008 and provides assurance that valuable tropical forests have not been cleared and that environmental and social safeguards have been met during the production of the palm oil.

WWF opted to grade palm oil buyers after releasing figures in May showing that only a small percentage of the sustainable palm oil available on the market had been bought. Since then, the situation is starting to improve. Over the last year, RSPO certified plantations have produced over 1,000,000 tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), and over 250,000 tonnes have been sold to date. While this still represents only 22 percent of the available supply on average, the RSPO has reported that CSPO sales have been growing in recent months.

The fruit of the oil palm yields palm oil, which is used in the manufacture of many food and non-food products.
© WWF Central America / Cinthya Flores