The World Environment Day 2022 is celebrated on 5th June and is the biggest international day for the environment led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since 1973. This year, the celebration is held in Sweden with the campaign slogan “Only One Earth“, focusing on “Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature”. The slogan specifically highlights the need to live sustainably in harmony with nature. This is one of the largest global platforms which promotes environmental awareness and outreach to millions of people across the world and encourages people and organisations to take responsible steps to preserve and enhance the environment.
The #OnlyOneEarth Practical Guide, developed for the World Environment Day 2022 highlights some of the transformative acts that everyone, from governments to organisations to individuals may contribute to make that positive change for the planet1. For this month of June, let’s focus on some of the actions you may take as a consumer as well as sustainability efforts by the industry and the government.
Call to Action 1: the Consumer Approach
Making Sustainable Living the Default Option
Sustainable living, as defined by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) means “understanding how our lifestyle choices impact the world around us and finding ways for everyone to live better and lighter”. In simple words, it is a lifestyle that lessens our impact to the environment by using less of the Earth’s natural resources. There are many ways to live a sustainable lifestyle. One such option is through sustainable consumption with Malaysian palm oil. Here is what you should know:
- Malaysian palm oil is environmentally friendly, contrary to what most consumers believe. It is widely known now that giving up palm oil is actually worse for the environment, and has been recognised by many reputable organisations including the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)2.
- Palm oil has a smaller carbon footprint compared to beef, chocolate and coffee (see Figure 1)3.
- Certified sustainable palm oil has a lower greenhouse gas emissions (at average of 3.41 kg CO2 eq./kg) compared to unsustainable palm oil (at average of 5.34 kg CO2 eq./kg) according to research conducted by Schmidt & Rosa (2020)4.
- Reducing your carbon footprint requires bigger action. Rather than avoiding palm oil, consumers should instead reduce their consumption of red meat (see Figure 1). Another significant action is to reduce your food waste. Food waste is estimated to be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the US and China (if food waste is a country), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Therefore, if we stop wasting food, we could cut away 8% of greenhouse gas emissions globally5.
- Know your palm oil. Get the right facts and let’s not be swayed by misinformation and fake news on palm oil. Help make sustainable palm oil a norm by looking out for the certified sustainable palm oil logo on food and non-food packaging. Supporting sustainable palm oil production will incentivize producers to move away from unsustainable practices.
Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of selected food products and its breakdown of emission sources. Source: Our World in Data
Call to Action 2 – The Malaysian Palm Oil Industry’s Efforts
Closing the Emissions Gap – Efforts by the Malaysian Palm Oil Industry to Achieve Net Zero
The Malaysian palm oil industry is in the right direction in its sustainability journey while embracing the net-zero carbon emissions policies. Although the palm oil industry is always criticised for its environmental impacts, it upholds a strong and renewed branding of sustainability story to ensure the transitioning towards net-zero transition is achieved successfully.
Green Energy for Low-carbon Future
Malaysia plans to increase the share of renewable energy (RE) in its installed capacity to 31% by 2025 and 40% in 2035 under its power generation plan6. With this target, the carbon intensity is estimated to decline by 45% by 2030 and further decline by 60% in the year 2035, compared to the 2005 level in line with the Paris Climate Agreement target. Malaysia plans to implement its nationwide adoption of the B20 (20% palm oil component) palm oil biofuel programme by the end of 20227.
Oil Palm Biomass as Renewable Energy
The Malaysian palm oil industry has been recognized as a new source of raw materials for biodiesel production and renewable energy. Oil palm biomass, in particular palm shell and mesocarp fibre, are vital fuels that are being used to produce steam and generate electricity in palm oil mills8. A total of 2991 MW, 3739 MW or 4487 MW could be generated from palm oil mill biomass with boilers of 20%, 25% and 30% efficiency, respectively8.
The Malaysian palm oil industry established a climate-friendly process by capturing methane from palm oil mills which is converted into green energy to generate electricity, either for internal consumption, or export to national grids, providing electricity to nearby households. In 2020, 125 out of 452 oil mills in Malaysia operated a biogas plant where the green energy produced from this initiative saved approximately 712 kt CO2 per annum9.
Climate-smart and Sustainable Agriculture
In efforts to promote and support climate-smart sustainable agriculture and to halt deforestation, Malaysian palm oil industry upholds the government’s commitment in preserving 50% of the country’s forest cover while conserving biodiversity. It also uses nature based solutions in the plantations to be in harmony with nature. Adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which uses nature based solutions for pest and disease control reduces crop damage while increasing productivity. Cost-effective methods with minimum hazard and reduced dependence on pesticides, makes the management of plantations more sustainable.
Call to Action 3 – The Malaysian Government’s Efforts
Enhancing Environmental Protection through Mandatory Sustainability Certification
With the global population set to increase to 9 billion by 205010, more countries will convert their land for agricultural use to meet the higher demand for food, feed and fuels11. However, these agricultural expansion will come at a cost to the environment. Deforestation from the land use changes will lead to a loss of biodiversity, environmental pollution and conflicts with indigenous communities. This will also result in increased GHG emissions that will further accelerate the impacts of climate change. The FAO have recently warned that the current global trend of agricultural expansion is unsustainable, and will hasten the depletion of our arable lands, if not managed sustainably11.
In order to address these concerns, countries need to adopt more sustainable approaches for their agricultural development. For Malaysia, the introduction of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) sustainability certification scheme in 2015 is much needed to ensure that the Malaysian palm oil industry produces sustainable palm oil, and does not lead to illegal deforestation, biodiversity loss and climate change. Made mandatory for the Malaysian palm oil industry from 2020 onwards, the MSPO scheme is based on the industry’s compliance of the Malaysian Standards MS 2530 series, which covers the Legality, Governance, Social and Environment sustainability aspects. As of today, 97% of the industry has achieved MSPO certification12.
To further strengthen the MSPO scheme, additional sustainability requirements have been included in March 2022. Key additions include requirements for High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, Social Impact Assessment (SIA), improved social and labour practices and GHG emissions calculation. These additional sustainability requirements will enable the Malaysian palm oil industry to better address the forced and child labour issues, provide stricter protection for its biodiversity and environment, as well as mitigating its GHG emissions.
The revised MSPO scheme is vital to ensure that Malaysia is able to meet the current sustainability requirements of the global market, especially at a time when more countries are now dependent on Malaysian palm oil due to the vegetable oil shortage caused by the Russia-Ukraine geopolitical crisis.
Figure 2: MSPO 2022’s Additional Sustainability Requirements
References and further reading
- UNEP. (2022). #OnlyOneEarth. A Practical Guide to living sustainably in harmony with nature. Available at https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/resource-efficiency/what-we-do/sustainable-lifestyles#:~:text=Sustainable%20living%20means%20understanding%20how,timely%20and%20opportunities%20are%20great.
- The IUCN Oil Crops Taskforce. Available at https://www.iucn.org/commissions/species-survival-commission/cross-cutting/oil-crops-task-force
- Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2020). Environmental Impacts of Food Production. Available at https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food
- Schmidt, J., & De Rosa, M. (2020). Certified palm oil reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to non-certified. Journal of Cleaner Production, 277, 124045.
- FAO. Food wastage footprint & Climate Change. Available at https://www.fao.org/3/bb144e/bb144e.pdf
- MIDA. (2021). Malaysia aims 31% RE capacity by 2025. Available at. https://www.mida.gov.my/mida-news/malaysia-aims-31-re-capacity-by-2025/#:~:text=Malaysia%20plans%20to%20increase%20the,under%20its%20power%20generation%20plan.
- Reuters. (2022). Indonesia, Malaysia commit to biodiesel mandates despite higher prices. Available at https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/indonesia-malaysia-commit-biodiesel-mandates-despite-higher-prices-2022-03-24/
- Salleh, S. F., Mohd Roslan, M. E., Abd Rahman, A., Shamsuddin, A. H., Tuan Abdullah, T. A. R., & Sovacool, B. K. (2020). Transitioning to a sustainable development framework for bioenergy in Malaysia: policy suggestions to catalyse the utilisation of palm oil mill residues. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 10(1), 1-20.
- Centre for Sustainable Palm Oil Studies. (2021). How the Palm Oil Industry is Transitioning to Net-Zero. Available at https://thecspo.org/how-the-palm-oil-industry-is-transitioning-to-net-zero/.
- Silva, G. (2018). Feeding the world in 2050 and beyond – Part 1: Productivity challenges – Agriculture. Michigan State University Extension. Available at https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/feeding-the-world-in-2050-and-beyond-part-1
- FAO. (2021). The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture – Systems at breaking point (SOLAW 2021). In The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture – Systems at breaking point (SOLAW 2021). Available at https://doi.org/10.4060/cb7654en
- The Star. (2022). Oil palm plantations, mills must meet MSPO 2022 standards. Available at https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2022/04/29/oil-palm-plantations-mills-must-meet-mspo-2022-standards