Palm Oil Plantations Store Even Less Carbon Than We Thought, New Study Shows

palm oil plantation photo

photo: Achmad Rabin Taim via flickr

It should be no great surprise to regular TreeHugger readers that one of the big issues with Indonesia and Malaysia converting more and more land to palm oil plantations and claiming that the biodiesel produced is carbon neutral, is in fact that it's far from the case. These plantations store far less carbon than genuine forest, which means they were probably better left intact than converted to agriculture. Mongabay is highlighting out a study that really drives that point home, and then some. It turns out that palm oil plantations actually store far less carbon as we previously thought:The study found that palm oil plantations only store about 40 tons of carbon per hectare in above ground biomass. That compares to 70-200 tons in forests that are more selectively logged or otherwise disturbed, and to up to 400 tons per hectare in undisturbed older forests.

In practical terms, that means that the amount of time it takes to payback the carbon debt of producing biofuel on that land to replace fossil fuels is even greater than we thought; and pretty much makes palm oil biodiesel produced in such conditions worse than petroleum-based diesel.

borneo forest photo

Intact forests should be set aside for conservation, the report said. Photo: Doug Wheller åvia flickr
Only Grow Palm Oil on Grass & Shrub Lands
Because of these new findings, the study, carried out by the World Agroforestry Centre, recommends that palm oil plantations only be planted in shrub and grassland areas where above ground biomass already stores less than 40 tons of carbon per hectare. Areas storing more than this should be set aside for conservation.

More: Mongabay
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