December 19, 2015

5 European Nations Promise 100% Sustainable Palm Oil

5 European Nations Promise 100% Sustainable Palm Oil

Europe has taken a definitive step down the path of global sustainability by encouraging ethical and environmental palm oil production. Photo Credit: hodag via Flickr

The governments of France, Germany, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands have officially pledged to make palm oil production 100% sustainable by 2020.  By ensuring that they demand only certified sustainable palm oil, these countries aim to force ethical and environmental practice on an industry punishing ecosystems across the globe.

Part of what is called the European Sustainable Palm Oil Project (ESPO), the agreement is an important development in global sustainability.  Palm oil has in recent years become a global scapegoat for deforestation, global warming, and increasingly, human rights violations.  The blame is in many ways well-deserved – palm oil is responsible for intensive deforestation in mega-diverse tropical regions around the world, slash-and-burn farming methods create massive CO2-spouting fires each year (Indonesia’s fires in 2015 were at their peak emitting more CO2 per day than the entire US Economy), and the global palm oil industry is dependent on abusive migrant labor.

As the world’s second largest importer of palm oil responsible for 11-12 percent of world production, Europe has the power to shift this negative momentum.  Before it does, however, a keen eye must be taken to the organization responsible for certifying sustainable palm oil.

The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – and most of the global palm oil producers it has granted a sustainable certification – have recently been exposed to be constantly bending and breaking their own rules.  “Sustainable” palm oil companies are still cutting down forests, still abusing workers, and still grabbing land illegally from its original citizen owners.

European officials recognize this challenge, and have acknowledged that RSPO reforms will be necessary.  Siska Pottie, managing director of the International Margarine Association of the Countries of Europe (IMACE) – a key player in making Europe’s palm oil demand sustainable – specifically mentioned RSPO reforms among other essential initiatives.

“Supporting producing countries to help them develop in a sustainable way, further alignment of definitions and criteria for sustainable palm oil, and a global approach in addressing deforestation is necessary to stop overall deforestation in the industry are necessary,” Pottie said.

Despite these issues and challenges, the commitment to sustainable palm oil by these five European nations is a bold step in the right direction for global sustainability.  Perhaps Barbara Gallani of the UK trade body the Food and Drink Federation, another organization that signed the commitment, said it best:

“No individual player can succeed in tackling sustainability challenges on their own so initiatives such as the new European Commitment are crucial to driving systemic change across whole supply chains.”

5 Comments so far

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  1. Robert Hii

    Hopefully Barbara Gallani means that European buyers will now chip in to create certified palm oil. The previous position taken by palm oil users demanding that growers bear the costs of certification does not work.

    1. Agreed, Robert. And I think what you’re hoping is going to happen is part of the plan. The European agreement sounds like it will have European buyers and perhaps governments provide support to help “sustainable” palm oil companies improve their standards and processes. Let’s hope that’s the case!

      Brandon Taylor
      Editor in Chief | Clean Malaysia

    2. pru

      Byy 2020 how much rain forest will remain?

  2. Is the term ‘sustainable Palm oil’ referring to Segregated or Identity Preserved supply options through the RSPO certification scheme? If the call is simply for coverage with GreenPalm certificates or even Mass Balance supply Palm oil, it is not truly the highest level of ‘sustainability’ that the RSPO and growers have to offer. Better yet, would the demand for sustainable Palm require No Deforestation policies and tracing of the oil and derivatives back not only to the mills, but also to the plantations? This is what is truly needed if the goal is sustainability.

    1. Thanks for asking, Teresa!

      The statements and information available about the exact definition of ‘sustainable Palm oil’ as it pertains to this agreement are unfortunately somewhat generalised. The best information we’ve found so far is in the document declaring the signatories to the agreement:

      http://www.mvo.nl/media/commitment_to_support_sustainable_palm_oil_in_europe_-_final__002_.pdf

      The way one signing party, the Belgian Alliance Sustainable Palm Oil, defines ‘sustainable Palm oil’ is as follows:

      For the Belgian Alliance, “sustainable Palm Oil” means:
      – Palm oil, certified according to RSPO
      – Palm oil from well-known origins and hence a traceable oil
      – Palm oil which does not contribute to deforestation and which preserves:
      o Forests with High Conservation Values (HCVs)
      o High Carbon Stock Areas (HCS)
      o Peat lands, irrespective of their depth
      – Palm oil which reduces the greenhouse gas emissions thanks to the use of ‘Best Practices’
      (see RSPO ‘Best Practices’)
      – Palm oil which respects the rights of the workers, local communities and population, based
      on the principle of free, prior and informed consent of the communities
      – Palm oil that promotes the development of small and independent farmers by involving
      them in the supply chain.

      There are links to more information in the signatory document.

      Please message us on Facebook if you’d like to get in touch, have any more questions, or would like to talk about Palm oil in Malaysia.

      Best Regards,

      Brandon Taylor
      Editor in Chief | Clean Malaysia

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