Cooking oil, chocolate, soap, washing powder, cosmetics and biofuels are just a few of the hundreds of products reliant on one key ingredient - palm oil. Demand for this versatile oil is rising rapidly. Today 80 per cent of world production comes from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil is the leading cause of destruction in Indonesia, where it is spelling disaster for local communities, biodiversity, and climate change as palm plantations encroach further and further into rainforest and critical peatland areas.
These issues are meant to be addressed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the self-regulating industry body created in 2001 to develop sustainable solutions to palm oil production. To date, despite seven years of existence, no "sustainable" palm oil has entered the market place appearing in products of its members (who include household names like Boots and BP). But that's supposedly now about to change as the first certified palm oil shipment from Malaysia arrives this week in Rotterdam.
While this could be potentially be something good, as they currently stand the RSPO's standards and criteria are not strong enough to guarantee that any of the palm oil it certifies is actually sustainable. We've documented all the reasons in two detailed reports over the last year; Cooking the Climate and Burning up Borneo.
Greenpeace has repeatedly pointed out to the RSPO that its standards are not being adhered to by palm oil producers - right now there is nothing to stop RSPO members from being involved in socially and environmentally destructive activities in their non-RSPO certified operations.
If the RSPO really wants to be taken seriously on sustainability, then it must take immediate steps to prohibit its members converting any more forest and peat land into plantations. Without such a move there can be no sustainable palm oil production in South East Asia; rather the RSPO will be creating an illusion of sustainability purely to justify the expansion of the palm oil industry, and to increase still further the demand for a product that is a key driver of forest destruction.
NB Our ship Esperanza is currently out in Indonesia touring Indonesia to show how the country's forests are being destroyed by extensive logging and the demand for palm oil, and the impact this is having on climate change.