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PRESS RELEASE: Tropical palm oil is much more polluting than IPCC technical committee suggests


A controversial report from a technical committee of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is under-estimating the amount of greenhouse gas emitted by palm oil grown on tropical peatlands by nearly 50%, according to NGOs.


The low emissions estimate stems from a technical committee on wetlands of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories of the IPCC which provides scientific advice to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is meeting this week in Poland. The committee’s recommended emissions factor suggests that palm oil grown on deep drained tropical peatlands emits 40 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

However Oxfam, Wetlands International, Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists say that the latest and most comprehensive peer-reviewed research over the last decade has been ignored, because of poor process. These scientists say the figure for deep drained and cultivated tropical peat is nearer 70 tons – nearly double the pollution level adopted by the committee.

Palm oil that is grown on tropical peatlands causes far greater emissions than when it is grown on other lands. An estimated 2.15 million hectares of palm plantations were planted on peatlands in 2010, and under current trajectories, expansion on peatlands is expected to double in the next decade.

Getting peatland emission factors right is extremely significant; underestimating these emissions has real world consequences for our climate, environment, and public health. It would mean that the world’s biggest palm oil-growing countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia would be producing far greater carbon dioxide emissions than emission calculations based on this IPCC emissions factor would suggest. It could also be used to skew EU and US policies on renewable energy and at the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and allow for “clean” biofuels to produce more carbon pollution than traditional fossil fuels.

Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International said, “We feel obliged to highlight the issue considering that it will have major implications for biofuel policies and land-use planning. It distorts the truth about the extensive and rapidly expanding oil palm plantations in tropical peatlands and may result in biofuels that will be more polluting than fossil fuels. We need genuinely sustainable palm oil.”

Derk Byvanck of Oxfam said, “This decision frustrates efforts to stop the expansion of large-scale unsustainable plantations on tropical peatlands. This expansion poses a major threat to our climate and to the livelihoods of local farmers. A transparent, evidence based decision by IPCC is urgently needed to support wise and fair governance over land use changes for large plantations in developing countries.”

Wetlands International sent the IPCC a letter of concern and the other NGOs call on the IPCC to reconsider its decision. They further have sent a letter to the RSPO requesting the body not to use the contested number as a standard for “sustainable” palm oil.


For more information:

Matt Grainger, Oxfam, +44(0)7730680837,
Bill Barclay, Rainforest Action Network, San Francisco, +1 4158457201,
Doug Boucher, Union of Concerned Scientists, +1 (202) 492-7376, 
Marcel Silvius, Wetlands International, +31 (0)610219000,
Nathalie Walker, National Wildlife Federation, US, +1-202-470-1083  

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