Anyone lucky enough to visit Ghana could do worse than order a plate of boiled yam and red-red – a stew made with beans and tomato paste. A Sunday morning treat in Europe might be homemade crepes and hazelnut chocolate spread. Both of these meals – though part of very different cuisines and eaten in different places – contain palm oil, an edible vegetable oil extracted from the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis).
The link between palm oil production and deforestation in the tropical regions where it is grown is well known, but few people realise how prevalent palm oil is in items consumed every day, such as cleaning products and biodiesel.
Many of these plantations have replaced natural forests and drained carbon-rich peatlands. In Indonesia alone, palm oil is cultivated by more than 4 million smallholder farmers, employing more than 7 million labourers throughout its supply chain, and in 2017 exports contributed over USD$23 billion to the country’s economy.
The European Parliament issued a resolution in 2017 to phase out and eventually ban biofuels made from palm oil. The proposed ban could reduce demand for palm oil, but many, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, aren’t sure it will be effective in stemming deforestation. Malaysian farmers meanwhile argue it will harm their livelihoods..
A ban could even harm the environment by ending efforts to work with countries that are developing sustainable palm oil production that can also reduce poverty.
More harm than good?
Just under half of the EU’s palm oil imports are used for biodiesel. Despite the importance of palm oil to Indonesia’s economy, the impact of any EU ban would likely be small. Indonesia exports two thirds of its biodiesel production, but only around one fifth of that goes to EU countries.
Indonesia might compensate for lost sales in the EU by increasing sales to large importers such as India and China. An EU ban could set back Indonesia’s efforts to manage its forests and palm oil trade more sustainably as these customers aren’t currently committed to sustainable sourcing. Unintended consequences like these highlight why bans can be crude policy instruments.
The EU ruled that renewable fuels such as biodiesel must comprise 10% of transport fuel by 2020. This was intended as an implicit ban on fossil fuels comprising the final 10% of vehicle diesel, but banning particular crops like palm oil for biofuels and keeping a biofuel requirement simply diverts the problem. This is particularly so if the EU continues to meet the 10% requirement using “first generation” biofuels – those derived directly from food crops, such as soy or rapeseed.
Replacing food crops to meet increased demand for bio-ethanol production places pressure on land and could increase global food prices, hurting low-income households most.
Better approaches would target the interconnected problems of carbon emissions, deforestation and poverty. EU countries could support the sustainable cultivation of palm oil, breaking the link between oil palm expansion and deforestation in producer countries. One way to do this is planting on degraded land rather than replacing forest. This avoids the negative impact of a ban on the livelihoods of millions of farmers.
Demand for fossil fuels could be reduced more effectively by making public transport more accessible, affordable and reliable. Incentives for people to buy electric cars, through subsidy and a higher density of charging points, could also help.
Indonesia and the EU have already worked together on this issue with some success. A voluntary partnership agreement between the two in 2003 helped Indonesia reduce illegal logging and export timber to the EU. But given that most of Indonesia’s palm oil exports go to countries outside of the EU, a global approach is needed.
The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre investigates the sustainable trade in forest products. It hopes to understand how incentives for supplier and producer countries can ensure trade improves livelihoods, prosperity and the natural environment.
In an increasingly interconnected world, seemingly sensible decisions made in one place can have unintended consequences elsewhere. An EU palm oil ban, designed to protect tropical forests, might instead harm the livelihoods of farmers and increase forest loss if countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia switch to markets with fewer environmental checks and balances.
About The Author
Elizabeth Robinson, Professor of Environmental Economics, University of Reading and Herry Purnomo, Professor of Forest Management and Governance, Centre for International Forestry Research
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon
Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy
by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein
In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon
From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.