It may seem like a headline from 2007 or 2008, when the huge ecological impact of Indonesia's relentlessly expanding palm oil plantations first really started being scrutinized, but as 2012 approaches the halfway mark (and the Rio+20 conference is fast approaching) a new report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tells us that the palm oil situation is even worse than we thought.
The nutshell version: Even though Indonesia has laws prohibiting expanding of plantations into forests growing on peat (which stores massive amounts of carbon below ground, in addition to the significant amounts stored above), these laws just aren't enforced with rigor.
The report says that currently about two-thirds of all forest outside of protected areas is leased to palm oil companies. At the present rate of expansion, by 2020 one-third of that land will be plantation and intact forest will shrink to just 4% of land cover. Yes, 4%. By this time, the study says, 90% of the emissions from palm oil plantations will come from those planted on cleared forest growing in peaty soils.