It is widely used in the manufacturing of many products, from margarine to lipstick, biscuits to candles, and chocolate to laundry detergent. It is also extensively used as a biofuel and as animal feed.
Palm oil is a very efficient crop and contributes to rural poverty alleviation and rural development in many regions. But its irresponsible production of palm oil has caused widespread rainforest destruction and wildlife loss, exacerbated climate change, and impacted the rights of local communities. And increasing global demand threatens more of the same.
In addition to beef, soy, and tropical timber, palm oil has been and continues to be a major driver of biodiversity loss.
Palm oil grows best in low lying, wet tropical areas – exactly where rainforests grow naturally.
Clearing for palm oil plantations has led to widespread rainforest destruction and peatland degradation, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia where most of the world's palm oil is grown. Increasing global demand for palm oil has also fueled expansion in other parts of Asia, Central and South America, and Central and West Africa.
Irresponsible expansion of oil palm plantations has negatively impacted many vulnerable and threatened species, including critically endangered orangutans, elephants and tigers.
Expansion has also often occurred at the expense of the rights and interests of local communities and indigenous peoples. Conflicts arising from the employment conditions of plantation workers and discrimination against smallholders have cast a shadow over the sector.
Finally, the growth of the industry has threatened freshwater ecosystems and caused soil erosion and pollution, as well as air pollution. The burning of forests and peatlands to clear and manage land for palm oil plantations releases massive quantities of carbon dioxide, fueling climate change and transboundary haze which has polluted the skies of cities far away from the source.
WWF’s approach to a responsible and sustainable palm oil industry
WWF believes that palm oil production does not have to be destructive and can be produced responsibly as a part of sustainable development. WWF’s vision is to ensure that palm oil production, trade and consumption is responsible; protects, restores and connects landscapes; and benefits both people and nature.
Responsible palm oil should be produced without causing deforestation, the conversion of natural ecosystems, environmental degradation, or the harming of wildlife. It should also be produced in a manner which treats workers fairly, respects the rights of local communities and indigenous people, and incentivises and empowers producers including smallholder farmers with the means to adopt more responsible production practices as a part of sustainable livelihoods.
Where palm oil is produced, the wellbeing of people, wildlife, and habitats should be protected and enhanced at a landscape level, and negative impacts should be mitigated and not displaced elsewhere.
WWF’s goals for palm oil are to:
Protect: Palm oil driven deforestation and natural habitat conversion are halted across all production landscapes.
Produce: Sustainable palm oil production is incentivised and no longer contributes to climate change and ecosystem degradation. The industry provides sustainable livelihoods, reduces poverty, and respects human rights.
Restore: Landscapes are restored and enhance biodiversity conservation through the restoration of degraded ecosystems – including forests, peatlands, and existing plantations – and the reconnection of fragmented habitats and populations by establishing wildlife corridors.
For this massive global shift to happen, WWF believes everyone has a role to play:
Companies producing palm oil need to adhere to robust standards for responsible production, while companies that trade and consume palm oil need to require that their suppliers adhere to these standards and credibly trace their palm oil to responsible sources.
Governments and financial institutions need to create an environment where illegal and irresponsible palm oil production and consumption are no longer tolerated.
Consumers and NGOs need to keep these businesses and governments accountable.
WWF aims to mainstream sustainable palm oil production in a way that protects nature, improves livelihoods for the millions of people that depend on it for their income, and ensures food security for a growing global population. In close collaboration with businesses, governments of producing and consuming countries, financial institutions, NGOs and consumers, WWF seeks to support the production and use of sustainable palm oil by:
- Promoting sustainable palm oil in major markets and raising consumer awareness of the need to use sustainably produced and sourced palm oil. We work to advance supply chain transparency, traceability and decision support tools. One way we do this is through the Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard.
- Encouraging demand for sustainable palm oil among buyers and traders, both through direct engagement and a number of alliances. We promote the purchasing of sustainable palm oil and adoption of other downstream “buyer” actions.
- Helping banks, investors, regulators and stock exchanges integrate environmental and social governance (ESG) into mainstream finance and create a resilient financial system that supports the sustainable palm oil agenda.
WWF interventions span across all palm oil producing regions, including South East Asia, Central and West Africa, and Central and South America, as well as all major palm oil consumption markets.
PRODUCTION IN WEST KALIMANTAN, INDONESIA
ASIA SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL LINKS
BANKABLE NATURE SOLUTIONS
SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE DEMAND
ALLIANCES IN ASIA
CERTIFICATION AND TRANSPARENCY
NATIONAL STRATEGIES & GOVERNANCE
SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION IN AFRICA
PALM OIL BUYERS SCORECARD