Southeast Asia Paying High Environmental Cost For Palm Oil

Image: Small part of the bigger picture - deforestation in Borneo, Indonesia (World Resources Institute)

In its annual Human Development Report released yesterday, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) highlighted the untenable environmental impacts of palm oil production. As a supposedly environmentally-friendly biofuel and healthier food ingredient, the demand for palm oil has risen steadily in recent years and can be found anywhere from cookies to cosmetics — yet, as we've shown on TH before (again and again), it is becoming clear that palm oil comes with a pretty heavy ecological cost.

"Expansion of cultivation of (oil palm) in East Asia has been associated with widespread deforestation and violation of human rights of indigenous people," states the report, which singles out top producers Indonesia and Malaysia as countries where - in addition to deforestation and indigenous conflicts - palm oil production has also resulted in the destruction of key habitats of endangered primates.

"As a result of deforestation, some of which is for palm oil, Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after the USA and China," continues the report. "Deforestation to make way for large-scale mono-cropping of energy crops obliterates the 'green credentials' of the biofuel."The UNDP report cautions that other Asian countries — notably Burma, Thailand and Cambodia to Vietnam and the Philippines — should take a long hard look at the full environmental costs of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia before they decide to go down the same road.

Already, the 2005 figures for the global cultivation of palm oil is estimated at around 12 million hectares, double the area back in 1997. Indonesia plans to convert even more peatland forests to palm oil and this year, signed no less than 58 agreements all worth $12.4 billion (US) to produce 200,000 barrels of oil-equivalent biofuel per day by 2010.

According to environmental observers, destroying these forests will not only mean less carbon sinks, but will also release the carbon stored in them into the atmosphere. "Peatland forests are traditional carbon storehouses. Typically they store up to 30 percent carbon dioxide," says Shailendra Yashwant, climate and energy campaigner for the South-east Asia office of Greenpeace.

The report's findings are expected to be one of the hotly debated issues in next month's climate change summit organized by the UN and hosted in Bali, Indonesia, with delegates from 180 nations expected to attend.
::InterPress Service

See also ::UNDP Human Development Report 2007/2008, ::UN Report on Sustainable Bioenergy Released, ::UN says Palm Oil Industry is Wiping out the Orang Utan, ::Indonesia Fastest Forest Destroyer, ::Indonesian Deforestation Threatens Endangered Orangutans

Tags: Bali | Deforestation | Indonesia | Malaysia

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