Sunday, September 04, 2016

Planet Is Paying for Palm Oil Profits

Palm oil production may have many benefits, but rapidly increasing plantation comes at a high cost to local and global environments.

Land cleared for oil palm plantation in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. (Image Credit: Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR) Click to Enlarge.
Palm oil makes a big contribution to modern life as one of the most-widely used substances in food, cooking, cosmetics, medicines and a range of chemicals.  But the industry that produces it is seriously harming the planet.

That is the conclusion of a study of nearly 1,000 scientific papers about oil palm plantations, published in Biological Reviews journal.

Over the last few decades, the scale of destruction of forests and peat lands so as to expand the highly-profitable oil palm plantations − mainly in southeast Asia − has been immense.

Although deliberately starting fires to clear pristine forests for plantations is illegal, the practice still continues and has contributed to serious air pollution across the region, causing breathing difficulties.

Oil palms are now a highly-profitable cash crop grown throughout the humid tropical lowlands in 43 countries, with 18.1million hectares in cultivation.  Indonesia (7.1m ha) and Malaysia (4.6m ha) account for 85% of global production, and the number of their plantations is steadily increasing.

Undeniable harm
Although the study − by Germany’s University of Göttingen, and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), and Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia − accepts that the plantations provide food and many other useful products, the harm they cause to the planet is undeniable.

Their defenders say the growing palm trees reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  But the researchers counter that this never compensates for the losses incurred when the forests were cleared in the first place.

This is particularly true when plantations are on land previously occupied by peat bogs.  The CO2 produced when the land is drained can never be offset by growing trees, the report says.

Apart from these increased greenhouse gas emissions, the plantations also emit volatile organic compounds, precursors to ozone, which is itself a serious air pollutant near ground level.

Read more at Planet Is Paying for Palm Oil Profits

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