Palm Oil: Why Should I Care?

Why should the cultivation of palm oil in the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia be a matter for us in Orkney? Why should  we be interested in a debate in Brussels?

Palm oil was barely utilised 30 years ago but its use has more than doubled since 2010 and according to estimates will again double by 2050. At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil  It can now be found in a variety of products such as margarine, chocolate spread, crisps, but also in cosmetics, detergent and biofuel.

In 2014 alone 45% of all palm oil imported into Europe was used as transport fuel. The EU is one of the world’s largest palm oil consumers Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

The production of palm oil leads to deforestation as jungle is removed to be replaced by palm plantations. Precious tropical ecosystems, which cover 7% of the Earth’s surface, are under increasing pressure from deforestation, resulting in:

  • forest fires
  • the drying up of rivers
  • soil erosion
  • loss of groundwater
  • pollution of waterways
  • destruction of rare natural habitats.

The loss of natural habitats in the form of rainforests endangers the survival of a large number of species such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Sumatran tiger and the Bornean orang-utan. Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat.

deforestation caused by palm oil cultivation

Deforestation due to palm oil cultivation

One huge source of global warming emissions associated with palm oil is the draining and burning of the carbon-rich swamps known as peatlands. Peatlands can hold up to 18 to 28 times as much carbon as the forests above them; when they are drained and burned, both carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere—and unless the water table is restored, peatlands continue to decay and release global warming emissions for decades. [Union of Concerned Scientists]


Czech MEP Kateřina Konečná has produced a report for discussion in the EU and has called upon the  European Commission to take measures to promote the responsible cultivation of palm oil and phase out its use for biofuels.

Konečná  wants the European Commission to strengthen environmental measures to prevent palm oil-related deforestation and phase out the use of palm oil as a component of biodiesel by 2020. Products should also be able to be certified for the socially responsible origin of their palm oil.

 Konečná said:

“I believe that the European Parliament should be very ambitious. “There should not be any palm oil in biofuels.”

So next time you shop and fancy some chocolate spread check out the ingredients. We are all responsible and we can make a difference.

Rainforest rescue


Union of Concerned Scientists

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