Government puts palm oil on the agenda at UN climate talks
As alternative fuels are increasingly promoted as an antidote to global climate change, Humane Society International (HSI) is pleased that the federal Government has today announced their commitment to the international sourcing of sustainable palm oil.
Escalating global demand for palm oil from the burgeoning biodiesel market, as well as its prolific use as an additive in food and toiletry products, has led to an increase in habitat degradation as tropical forests, predominantly in south-east Asia, are logged to make way for oil palm plantations.
Not only has the conversion of land for this industry contributed to a 65% increase in carbon dioxide emissions from Malaysia alone, the world’s fastest growing palm oil producer, between 1990 and 2003, the loss of habitat has also rendered many species increasingly vulnerable, with predictions that some species such as the Bornean orang-utan could face extinction in as little as 10 years if this industry continues unregulated.
“Coordinated international action to ensure that palm oil is sustainably produced is long-overdue,” said Rebecca Keeble, HSI’s Program Manager. “Currently, there is no certification system in place that verifies that any palm oil produced, anywhere in the world, is from sustainable practices, so we commend the Government for committing to furthering an international certification scheme of this nature at the UN climate change meetings in December.”
Earlier this year, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) released a set of definitions and criteria for the sustainable production of palm oil, and procedures for the certification of its production and supply. However, this process is still in its infancy, and it will be another two years before these certification systems are reviewed, and their success can be ascertained. In the meantime, discussions in international fora such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should encourage the implementation of domestic policies in both supply and importing countries, to reduce habitat destruction, and ensure, among other things, that oil palm plantations are established on land already cleared for agriculture.
While the Government has shown its intention to further international discussions on palm oil production and expansion, immediate action on a domestic level is also required. With the issue becoming increasingly high profile, consumers are becoming more aware that palm oil is an abundant ingredient in many food and household products. Despite this, the presence of palm oil in consumer products is commonly hidden behind ambiguous labelling as ‘vegetable oil’.
“The honest and straightforward labelling of palm oil as an ingredient in domestically produced items, while international certification schemes are developed and implemented, will give consumers the option to avoid an industry that currently can not be said to be sustainable,” Ms Keeble said.