Global warming is being caused by an ingredient hidden in many of the products that we buy.
Palm oil is found in products like margarine, cookies, bread and chewing gum. It might even be in some washing powders. It’s difficult to spot on the packaging as it’s usually listed as ‘vegetable oil’.
Demand for palm oil may increase if more vegetable oils are required to make biofuels. Currently, the European Union Biofuels Directive aims to achieve fuels with a 5% biofuel content.
So why is this natural product a problem? Thirty-square miles of rainforests in Borneo are being destroyed every day to plant giant palm-oil plantations. As the rainforests, disappear wildlife so does wildlife like orang-utans, tigers, bearded pigs, sun bears. All are endangered species.
Rainforests are important for absorbing carbon dioxide as well as sustaining indigenous peoples and endangered wildlife. Peat as well as plant life is important for trapping carbon dioxide. It is a semi-saturated soil which acts as a ‘carbon store’ which release massive amounts of carbon dioxide when it is burnt to make way for palm oil plantations.
Greenpeace, in its report “Cooking the Climate”, calculated that the burning of South-East Asia’s peat forests – mainly for palm oil plantations – caused the release of 1.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
That means that a massive 4% of global-warming-causing emissions came from 0.1% of the Earth’s surface.
The UK Government calculates that such deforestation causes 18% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. CO2 is a key element in the Earth’s warming that is likely to alter the Earth’s weather system radically in the coming years. Climate change may well bring more flooding in places such as Bangladesh and the Maldives. Already, Tuvalu is danger of sinking. Even the UK has been experiencing serious flooding in the last few years.
To prevent the problem getting worse, the UK will be pressing for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) at the Copenhagen Environmental Summit to be held in Copenhagen at the end of the year. Essentially, REDD is a scheme for funding jungle preservation in developing countries.
Meanwhile, companies are coming under increasing pressure to reduce their use of palm oil. Unilever is the world’s biggest user of palm oil. 1.6 tonnes of palm oil is used in its products each year. That’s 4% of the global total. Its solution was to set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. The RSPO devised eight principles and thirty-nine practical criteria to protect native peoples, plantation workers, small farmers and wildlife. Forty per cent of palm oil suppliers have signed up to the RSPO. Members agree not to destroy virgin forest, but are allowed to use ‘degraded forest’ – where some trees have already been felled.
Currently, only 4% of the global palm oil supply (1.5 million tonnes), is certified by the RSPO as sustainable.
Unilever, Premier Foods and United Biscuits have only committed publicly to using only sustainable palm oil by 2015, 2011 and 2012 respectively. However, most companies haven’t given any commitment to sustainable palm oil.
PepsiCo is leading the way though. It has phased out palm oil from its two remaining products.
So what can you do? It’s not easy to avoid palm oil in the supermarket. 43% of the UK’s top 100 grocery brands contain, or are thought to contain, palm oil. Check out these products at www.independent.co.uk/palmoil .