Palm Oil and Reduced Global Warming

AT

a recent forum organised by the Palm Oil Refiners Association of

Malaysia (PORAM), it was revealed that there was no moral case for

Western Environmental NGO (WENGO) campaigns against palm oil. Data

indicates that the agricultural land occupied by the world palm oil

industry is miniscule (1.56 per cent) compared with the total land

allocated to growing grains and oilseeds.

Oil palm is the main agricultural crop of major producer countries

such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where it occupies 13 per cent and five

per cent of their land area respectively. Assuming that developing

countries are allowed to use part of their land area for agriculture and

plant the most profitable crops to provide employment, produce food and

generate income, the data shows that there is no excessive

over-exploitation of forests due to planting oil palm as a cash crop.

Nationally, both countries retain much higher percentages of forest as

compared with developed countries.

If WENGOs claim that global

warming is caused by loss of forests due to oil palm cultivation, it

would be useful to know that oil palm share of world agricultural land

is only 0.22 per cent. The share of loss of carbon stock (deforestation)

caused by oil palm compared with total global agriculture is thus

assumed to be 0.22 per cent. It is, therefore, morally unacceptable for

WENGOs to ask for palm oil-producing countries to reduce their share of

agriculture, which accounts for merely 0.22 per cent of the world’s

agricultural area.

Even the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emission of global

agriculture of 17 per cent is considered small compared with the burning

of fossil fuel, which contributes 57 per cent of GHG emission. The

carbon footprint of oil palm cultivation globally is, therefore, 0.22

per cent times 17 per cent of the total or 0.0374 per cent of global GHG

emissions. This has no bearing on global warming, hence making it

immoral to blame oil palm as a significant contributor to global

warming.

Many other economic activities are responsible for the vast amount of

GHG emission. These activities are accepted as part of the economic

growth processes needed to sustain the world economy. Efforts to reduce

GHG emissions should be directed at these economic activities as they

are the main cause of GHG emission. Curtailing the expansion of oil palm

on the basis of its impact on global warming is, therefore,

scientifically unjustified as the contribution is only 0.0374 per cent

of global GHG emission.

If the loss of biodiversity is used as an

argument to discourage oil palm cultivation, then ample forest is being

conserved. The United Nations convention only requires 10 per cent of

the country’s land area to be kept as forest for conserving

biodiversity, and Malaysia has far exceeded this by committing 50 per

cent.

Despite the lack of convincing evidence to pin down the palm oil

industry against global warming or biodiversity loss, both producer

countries have given full cooperation to comply with the needs of

stakeholders and WENGOs to produce palm oil sustainably. They have fully

embraced the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to enable palm

oil to be certified to meet sustainability principles and criteria.

The

Indonesians have signed an agreement with Norway for a moratorium on

deforestation while the Malaysian government has repeatedly announced

its assurance of maintaining at least 50 per cent of its land area as

permanent forest. Deforestation thus appears to be a non-issue.

To

ensure a level playing field, it is timely that a similar certification

for sustainability be required for other oils produced by various

countries worldwide. Otherwise, it will be a clear reflection of the oil

palm industry being victimised by being asked to comply to

certification needs for sustainability when no scientific justification

exists to allow the world to benefit from global warming mitigation or

improved biodiversity. Without premiums given to RSPO certified palm

oil, it becomes a big burden for oil palm farmers to bear the added cost

of certification when their counterpart farmers producing soyabean or

rapeseed do not have to be certified for sustainability.

Certifying the other (low yielding and land inefficient) oilseed

crops for sustainability would at least contribute to a greater amount

of carbon emission reduction compared with oil palm, even though the

quantum of saving is still small compared with the carbon footprint of

fossil fuel and other agricultural activities.

All evidence

clearly shows that there is no moral ground for WENGOs to campaign

against palm oil. Unless the WENGOs can quantify and show that there are

clear benefits relating to global warming or biodiversity improvements,

or economic premiums for sustainable certified palm oil, then it is

only a matter of time before producers realise that WENGOs only impose

the no deforestation condition on palm oil but do not bother to do

likewise on other low yielding crops which occupy vast areas of land.

Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron is CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council

Source : New Straits Times

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