RSPO criteria on palm oil need to go further
Adopted at the recent 5th Roundtable on Sustainable Development (RT5), the RSPO P&C is a significant milestone for the multi-national and multi-stakeholder group. Established in 2003 to develop certified sustainable palm oil, the recently adopted RSPO P&C has established clear guidelines on best management practices for the industry that minimizes negative impact to the environment. In addition the RSPO P&C ensures protection of high conservation value forests, and rights to land tenure are protected.
However, according to Wetlands International, the adopted RSPO P&C does not adequately address the issues of greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands, or commit to prohibit any further expansion of new plantations on peatlands. Without addressing these key issues, Wetlands International continues to raise concerns of sustainability for palm oil as a product for the biofuel industry.
Studies have shown that palm oil grown on mineral soil covered in grassland or annual crops used in the production of biofuel can emit significantly less greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuel if appropriate mitigating measures are taken in the production process. However, greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil grown on drained peatlands or former forest land are always higher than fossil fuel, and thus negate their potential positive contribution as a biofuel.
Peatlands are one of the most efficient ecosystems in the storage of carbon. Though covering on 3% of the global land mass, peatlands contain as much as all terrestrial biomass, and twice as much as all forest biomass. It is estimated that peatlands store as much as 550 billion tonnes of carbon. Drainage causes peat to decompose rapidly and releases carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gasses the global community is trying to reduce. Studies by Delft Hydraulics, Wetlands International and Alterra estimate that over two thousand million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year are emitted from degraded peatlands in Southeast Asia of which at least 200 million tonnes CO2 coming from palm oil plantations on peat.
Wetlands International welcomes the recent vote by members of RSPO to adopt a revision of the Principles & Criteria for sustainable palm oil. The revised criteria included a recommendation from the RSPO Criteria Working Group that the Executive Board of the RSPO urgently establish a working group to consider all issues relating to Greenhouse Gas emissions, in terms of their relevance to the oil palm sector. As a member of the RSPO, Wetlands International will actively participate in discussions and facilitation of information, in particular on greenhouse gas emissions from drained peatlands, should such a committee be established.
Wetlands International is actively working towards conservation and wise use of tropical peatlands. In the spirit of the RSPO, Wetlands International urges plantation companies to work together to protect peatlands and wetlands on estates as a sign of its commitment to producing certified sustainable palm oil and feedstock for the biofuel industry.
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