Scientists call on EU businesses, govts to support greener palm oil

Scientists urge Europe to do more on advancing the adoption of sustainable palm oil, noting that the continent represents 15 per cent of global palm oil consumption.

While Europe has shown early leadership in pushing the palm oil sector toward less damaging practices, European politicians and business leaders need to do more to improve the sustainability of the industry, says a body representing hundreds of conservation scientists from dozens of countries.

In a declaration issued at the conclusion of its annual meeting — held this year in Montpellier, France, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) called for specific measures to strengthen the market for “responsibly sourced” palm oil, including greater supply chain transparency, incentives and mandates for certified palm oil, increased engagement between governments in consuming and producing countries, and adoption of zero deforestation procurement policies.

“[We] acknowledge and commend recent developments towards sustainable palm oil production,” states the Montpellier Declaration. “We also recognise that there remains much work to be done, particularly in increasing the demand for certified and responsibly sourced palm oil, and in integrating smallholder producers into certified palm oil markets.”

Noting that Europe represents 15 per cent of global palm oil consumption, ATBC said the continent “has a pivotal role in leading global initiatives to advance the adoption of sustainable palm oil production and supply chain management.” It identified the European retail and manufacturing sector as a key agent for driving transformational change in how palm oil is produced.

“The European retail and manufacturing sector can contribute to sustainable palm oil initiatives by developing pathways through which the smallholder sector can gain better access to certified palm oil markets.”

The establishment of oil palm plantations is one of the biggest drivers of tropical forest and peat swamp conversion in Southeast Asia. As such, scientists have pointed to unsustainable palm oil production as a threat to biodiversity and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Plantation development has also in some cases exacerbated social conflict and been associated with labor abuse.

In response to these concerns, in recent years, several of the world’s largest palm oil consumers, traders, and producers have made commitments to eliminate deforestation and human rights abuses from their supply chains. Companies are now working to implement these commitments, sometimes in the face of opposition from governments and lackluster demand for greener palm oil.

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