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What’s wrong with palm oil?

The palm oil industry is responsible for destroying our precious rain forests, causing forest fires and climate change, driving orangutans and other species to extinction and the abuse of human rights.

destruction of forests

Ninety per cent of the world’s palm-oil exports come from the oil-palm plantations of Indonesia and Malaysia.* Most of these plantations are on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo (part of which is in Malaysia).* The palm-oil industry has set up 6.5 million hectares of oil-palm plantations across Sumatra and Borneo, but is probably responsible for the destruction of 10 million hectares of rain forest.*

Borneo has already lost half its forest cover, while Sumatra has lost more than 70 per cent.*

Palm plantation

Indonesia appeared in the 2008/09 Guinness Book of World Records, with the dubious “honour” of being the country with the fastest rate of deforestation in the world. The entry will read: “Of the 44 countries which collectively account for 90 percent of the world’s forests, the country which pursues the highest annual rate of deforestation is Indonesia with 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) of forest destroyed each year between 2000-2005.”^

Indonesia aims to almost double the 6.5m hectares under oil palm plantation in the next five to eight years and triple it by 2020.+ According to the United National Environment Programme, it is estimated that within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone.±

driving orangutans to extinction

How much longer do the orang utans have?

The lowland forest that the oil-palm industry favours for conversion is the only remaining habitat of the orangutan.*

Almost 90 per cent of orangutan habitat has now disappeared. Some orangutan populations have been halved in the past 15 years, and from a total remaining population between 50,000 and 60,000 animals, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 are killed each year.±

Experts have identified a number of priority forest areas that are crucial for the continued existence of orangutan in the wild. Within just one Indonesian province, Central Kalimantan, two-thirds of these are either about to be converted to oil palm, or are at high risk of conversion.*

abuse of human rights

The oil-palm plantation business is the most conflict-ridden sector in Indonesia, and one of the most polluting. Plantations are often forcibly established on land traditionally owned by indigenous peoples, and plantation development has repeatedly been associated with violent conflict.*

In many plantations, workers have to contend with low wages and appalling living conditions, so while the palm oil industry may create jobs and generate export revenue, but it can also trap entire communities in poverty.*

causing climate change

Tropical deforestation due to agricultural expansion, logging and infrastructure development already contributes between 10 and 30 per cent of greenhouse global emissions.◊

Dutch pressure group Wetlands International found that as much as half the space created for new palm oil plantations was cleared by draining and burning peat-land, sending huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.±

Estimates say Indonesia’s peat-land fires generate 1,400m tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, contributing to its position as the world’s third-largest producer of CO2.+

forest fires

Palm oil plantation companies in Indonesia have been identified as one of the chief culprits in setting forest fires over the last 10 years. These occur every year in Indonesia and release huge quantities of carbon into the atmosphere.◊

In one of the worst fire incidents between 1997 and 1998 it is estimated that the emissions from the forest fires in Indonesia were equivalent to 40% of all global emissions from burning fossil fuels that year.◊

* Friends of the Earth Report, Oil for Ape, September 2005
+ The Guardian, Palm oil: the biofuel of the future driving an ecological disaster now, 4/4/07
^ Reuters, Indonesia deforestation fastest in world, 3/5/07
± UNEP Rapid Response Assessment, The Last Stand of the Orang-utan, February 2007
Friends of the Earth Briefing, The use of palm oil for biofuel and as biomass for energy, August 2006
x Lian Pin Koh, Institute of Terrestrial Ecosystems, ETH Zurich University & David S. Wilcove, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University: Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.24 No.2

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 24, 2011 6:49 pm

    Thamk you this got me through my homework :3

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