Palm Oil in the Spotlight: Plantations Threaten Rare Cats, Peatland Emissions Increasing + A Small Victory


It looks like forest, but it's a palm oil plantation... photo: sampsadaily via flickr.

Three stories coming in focusing on deforestation, climate change and biodiversity: Scientists point out that when it comes to carbon emissions from peatland loss SE Asia leads the way; development of palm oil plantations on Borneo is threatening several of the world's rarest cats; and (a small bright spot in this) palm oil producers in the rest of the world pledge to not create new plantations on peatlands:Indonesia, Malaysia Won't Go For Peatland Palm Oil Ban
The small victory first: Mongabay reports that at a meeting this week of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia palm oil producers in the rest of the world -- that is, everyone but Indonesia and Malaysia -- have agreed to strop developing new plantations on peatlands.

The decision goes into effect immediate, with concerns over the massive greenhouse gas emissions that occur when forests are cleared from peatlands being cited as the reason for the move.

Which is great news in theory, but remember that about 88% of the world's palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, and a good portion of new plantations are planned for peatlands. So it's a good step, but a much larger one is needed to rein in the massive emissions from deforestation for palm oil.

A good stat to remember: A recent survey of biofuels by UNEP shows that in the worst conditions,palm oil biodiesel can have 2000% the emissions of petro-diesel.


Deforestation in Malaysia, photo: Ben Sutherland via flickr.
Three SE Asian Countries Responsible For Half World's Peatland Carbon Emissions
Which brings us to part two: On the sidelines of the Barcelona climate talks, scientists are highlighting the large role that emissions from deforestation on peatlands have in climate change -- and which are largely being overlooked in discussions of how to stop forest clearing.

Though some 175 countries have peatlands -- which store three times as much carbon as the world's forests, it should be pointed out -- slightly less than half of these emissions from clearing them are in Southeast Asia.

Last year about 1.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions came from peatlands, with some 580 million tons coming from just three countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.


The Bay Cat is among four Borneo cat species threatened by palm oil plantations. Photo: Jim Sanderson/Borneo Wild Cat Project
Borneo Wild Cats Shun Palm Oil Plantations
But back to the ground level: A three year study in Malaysian Borneo reveals that palm oil plantations are driving habitat loss that threatens four out of five rare cat species.

The study was done by the Global Canopy Program's Bornean Wild Cat and Clouded Leopard Project. Researchers examined the Sunda clouded leopard, the bay cat, the marbled cat, the leopard cat, and the flat-headed cat.

While all five cat species were found in primary forests and recently logged forests, only the leopard cat was found to inhabit palm oil plantations. Those cats which shun the plantations were found to avoid even migrating through them.

More on this one: Photos: Palm oil threatens Borneo's rarest cats
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Indonesia to Allow More Palm Oil From Peatlands: Watch Greenhouse Gas Emissions Go Through the Roof

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Deforestation | Endangered Species | Global Warming Causes | Renewable Energy