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Embracing Sustainable Palm Oil


As the global movement toward sustainability gains momentum, it is crucial for the European Union (EU) to support sustainable palm oil producers and the production of environmentally friendly palm oil to mitigate the negative environmental effects it has historically had. Initiatives like Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Certification Scheme , the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) Certification Scheme and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) work with producers and consumers to educate them about what makes palm oil sustainable.

Over recent decades it has emerged as a critical industrial input with many different applications due to its exceptional versatility, unique properties, and widespread availability.

The main use of palm oil is cooking and food manufacture. In the food industry, palm oil is utilized in an extensive array of products, from baked goods and snacks to cooking oil and margarine, contributing to global food security.

It is a very versatile industrial product that is found in cosmetic, and personal care products, as well as industrial applications, including biofuel production, where it is an important feedstock, and as an industrial lubricant.

The many industrial uses of palm kernel oil and its importance to the global economy mean that it is imperative that the palm oil industry maintains and increases supplies of sustainable palm oil.

Moves to restrict imports of sustainable palm oil by the European Union (EU) not only undermines its commitment to environmental responsibility but also its own sustainability objectives. 

The facts about sustainable palm oil are that when developed on low-carbon stock lands, as certified sustainable palm oil is, it may have an even lower emissions factor than comparative oil crops. Furthermore, preventing expansion on forest and peat land, banning burning for land clearance, and using methane capture technology at mills, can reduce the life- cycle emissions of palm oil by 42%.

Research on RSPO-certified plantations puts the lifecycle CO2e emissions of palm oil at 3,4kg/kg, i.e., lower than sunflower or soybean.

Oil yields for palm per hectare is also almost 6-10 times that of other oilseeds such as rapeseed, soybean, olive, or sunflower. To replace palm oil would mean nine times more land allocation to produce a similar amount of oil from these alternative crops. In the pursuit of a more sustainable supply chain, the EU is attempting to limit the use of the most efficient oil which has strong sustainability potential.

Sustainable palm oil, as certified by the RSPO, can be a viable and responsible choice; palm oil releases fewer GHG emissions and needs far less land compared to other vegetable oils.

By supporting RSPO-certified palm oil, the EU can encourage palm oil producers to adopt responsible practices that minimize environmental impact, preserve biodiversity, and protect ecosystems. Instead of a ban or restrictions on the market, the EU should incentivize sustainable palm oil production, providing economic opportunities for the world’s palm oil-producing countries (the vast majority of which rely heavily on the industry for export earnings and employment creation) and driving positive change in the industry.

Banning palm oil fails to address the core issue effectively. Sustainable palm oil production, certified by the RSPO, addresses environmental challenges associated with deforestation, habitat destruction, and GHG emissions. By demanding sustainable practices, the EU can contribute to the preservation of vital ecosystems while ensuring a steady supply of a versatile and widely used commodity.

A ban on sustainable palm oil from biodiesel production by the European Union would have severe social and economic implications, particularly for palm oil-producing countries, the biggest of which are Indonesia and Malaysia. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), palm oil accounted for 35% of global vegetable oil production in 2017. Any ban would disrupt international trade flows, affecting not only palm oil-producing nations but also importers and exporters worldwide. This could lead to a decline in economic growth and hinder the stability of global supply chains.

Palm oil is a major source of income and employment for millions of people, helping to alleviate poverty and support people in, particularly, rural communities. Supporting sustainable palm oil production provides an avenue for economic development and social stability, aligning with the EU’s commitment to sustainable development goals.

Banning palm oil without considering the broader context reflects hypocrisy and double standards. Many EU member states also produce vegetable oils, such as rapeseed and sunflower oil, which face their own environmental challenges. It is essential to apply consistent principles to all vegetable oil production, promoting sustainability rather than selectively targeting palm oil.

Solving complex environmental issues requires collaboration and collective action. Instead of a ban, the EU should engage in dialogue with palm oil-producing countries, encouraging them to adopt sustainable practices and supporting their efforts. Collaboration between the EU and the RSPO can drive positive change, promoting responsible palm oil production and minimizing environmental impacts.

The EU has an opportunity to lead by example in promoting sustainable palm oil production and supporting the RSPO. By embracing sustainable practices and fostering dialogue, the EU can contribute to a greener future while ensuring the livelihoods of millions of people and upholding its commitment to environmental responsibility.