The rampant expansion of the palm oil industry is having a devastating effect on the environment and is a disaster for global climate change. And it’s happening right on our doorstep.
Every day, huge areas of forest in our neighbouring countries are being cleared to make way for new plantations, causing greenhouse gas emissions to sky-rocket.
Clearing forests for palm oil plantations is also destroying the natural habitat of many critically endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan. Experts predict that if deforestation continues, the entire species could be wiped out by 2020.
Manufacturers the world over use palm oil, the cheapest form of vegetable oil available. It’s used in a variety of products, including soap, shampoo, margarine, biscuits and chocolate.
Global demand for palm oil is enormous, and is predicted to more than double by 2030 and triple by 2050.
Indonesia is the world’s primary palm oil supplier, with already 6 million hectares of palm oil plantations and plans for 4 million more by 2015. The damage deforestation is causing to Indonesia’s peatlands, the delicate ecosystem that many Indonesian forests exist on, accounts for 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s because of this that Indonesia ranks as the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China.
The largest palm oil producer in the largest palm oil country is Sinar Mas. Last year, Greenpeace released a report to put the spotlight on this company’s involvement in forest destruction.
The report found that Sinar Mas was contravening national forest laws, and destroying peatland forest ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities in Indonesia’s Kalimantan region (Indonesia’s part of the island of Borneo).
Following this report, the world’s largest palm oil buyer, Unilever, swiftly terminated its contract with Sinar Mas. But other companies continue buying palm oil from them.
What you can do
Many of the products we regularly buy in Australia contain palm oil from Indonesia. Your buying habits could be fuelling climate change and destroying the homes of endangered animals in our region.
Check the products you purchase to make sure they do not contain palm oil. If you aren’t sure, contact the manufacturer and ask them whether their product is made with palm oil.
» An article on a recent BBC Panorama investigation into the issue.