Palm Oil: The Common Household Ingredient that Harms the Climate

Immense wildfires raged over Indonesian Sumatra and Borneo in September 2015, only months earlier after world finalized the Paris Agreement on global warming, obscuring the clouds throughout Southeast Asia and endangering the mental wellbeing of scores of people.

“As much as other plants, palm oil grows faster over tropical rainforests and peatlands with significant carbon reserves,” explains Stephanie Searle, fuels program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

The severity of the Indonesian wildfires serves as a warning to the entire globe that solving environmental issues requires more of it than simply a move away from fossil and toward renewable power.

As per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, outputs of ground usage, comprising agriculture, deforestation, and peatland degradation, contribute for around a quarter of worldwide carbon.

Palm Oil as Contributor to Global Warming

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Around 1990, palm oil has progressed from a marginal item to one of Indonesia’s primary exports. The current market spans 6.8 million hectares, approximately the size of the Ireland. It generates 43 million metric ton of oil, accounting for 58% of global output, which is used locally as well as supplied to countries such as Europe, the United States, India, and China.

Although flames continue to occur on an annual basis, notably massive fires in 2018 and 2019, they are significantly lesser broad than in 2015. Additionally, as per Global Forest Watch statistics, deforestation in 2020 was down 70% out of its high in 2016.

Large number of hectares of peatlands have been re-wetted and regenerated as Indonesia banned the establishment of innovative oil palm farms in 2018.

Nonetheless, organizations such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which was formed in 2004 in response to a surge of negative publicity on the linkages between palm oil and rainforest, appear to have forced distribution networks to be more accountable.

Largest palm oil purchasers such as L’Ore, PepsiCo, and Unilever are said committed to zero deforestation.

The restriction on new palm oil operations in Indonesia expires in September 2021 and was not restored. The enactment of a key proposed legislation in October 2020, intended to generate employment and drive macroeconomic stability after Covid-19, along with close to high palm oil prices internationally, has other worried that a resurgence to arson, peatland, and massive forest destruction is on the future.

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The New Bill Proposed

To that end, Head of state Joko Widodo established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in January 2016 and charged it with restoring 1.7 million hectares of peatlands within locations and 900,000 hectares of peatlands beyond those areas by 2020. The state’s 2018 palm oil concession prohibition went a step ahead, and its destruction prohibition turned official in 2019.

The BRG and other organizations entrusted with assisting in peatland rehabilitation encountered a significant hurdle. Since peatlands are extremely unstable, they required to work quickly to recover those that was already destroyed in attempt to reduce CO2 emissions.

They employ a neighborhood strategy to guarantee that recovery is successful and efficient.

“We must care after welfare of the neighborhood,” Nyoman explains.

“If they are starving, we cannot compel them to repair their peatlands.”

This entails offering alternatives to palm oil, including other types of wood products or fisheries. It also entails guaranteeing that the villagers are well-informed about the renovations and 

Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu, Human Rights Watch analyst who investigated palm oil plantation growths in West Kalimantan, voiced alarm that the employment generation regulation might exacerbate the situation by limiting community and ecologic specialist participation in environmental assessment and speeding up licensing operations for enterprises.

However, it fell well short of its other objective for peatland recovery within selected communities, recovering just 390,000 hectares out of a planned 1.7 million hectares by early 2020. It is now known as the Peatland and Mangrove Restoration Agency, so it is entrusted with recovering 600,000 hectares of damaged mangroves and 1.2 million hectares of peatlands by 2024.

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