From: Reuters
Published November 8, 2007 08:31 AM

Booming Palm Oil Demand Fueling Climate Crisis

SINGAPORE - Indonesia's peatland forests are a ticking "climate bomb" and Kit Kats, Pringles and other palm oil-based products are lighting the fuse, global conservation group, Greenpeace said.

Clearing forests that grow on the country's thick carbon-storing peatland releases more than a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, the group said at the unveiling of its "Cooking the Climate" report in Singapore.

"A handful of international corporations are ultimately responsible for slashing and burning Indonesia's peatlands," said Emmy Hafild, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

"Some of the best-known brands are literally cooking the climate."

Greenpeace estimates that peatlands in Riau Province, on Sumatra island, store the equivalent of one year's global greenhouse emissions -- an estimated 14.6 billion tonnes of carbon.

About three million hectares (7.5 million acres) of these peatland forests are earmarked for conversion to palm oil plantations over the next decade, Greenpeace said.

This "climate bomb" is ticking loudly in the run-up to December's United Nations' climate change meeting in Bali, which is expected to debate forests' role in accelerating -- and slowing -- climate change, said Sue Connor, Greenpeace International Forests Campaigner.

"(If the Riau peatlands are cleared) it would wipe out any chance we have of keeping the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius," she said, referring to a threshold given by the UN's climate panel.

Palm oil is used in anything from body lotions and toothpaste to chocolate bars, crisps and as a component of biofuels, such as biodiesel.

It is the world's second most popular edible oil after soyoil.

FUEL FOR CRITICS

The report names multinationals such as Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble, the makers of brands such as Flora margarine, Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Kit Kat chocolate bars.

Greenpeace says the companies are implicated in causing rainforest destruction in Southeast Asia.

But just as fans of the companies' chocolate bars and ice creams might not realize their snacks' global environmental impact, the companies were often also in the dark, Connor said.

While the link between peatland clearance and carbon emissions is well established, opaque global supply chains and lack of forest law enforcement in Indonesia make it impossible for end-users to guarantee their oil has come from plantations on legally cleared peat forests.

Greenpeace's recent investigation in Riau found one of Indonesia's ten-largest palm oil refiners, Duta Palma, had violated Indonesian law by clearing trees growing on peat deeper than the limit of three meters (10 feet) set by presidential decree, Connor said.

"The palm oil industry is out of control," she said.

"There's no way for the end user to know whether the oil comes from destructive sources or not... None of the oil is segregated by traders."

Even companies that are members of industry watchdog the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), whose goal is to verify sustainably grown palm oil, cannot be certain of the provenance of the product they are buying, she said.

"At the moment there is no certified oil. The rules are very weak."

Some of the companies named in the report are RSPO members.

Unilever, for example, is president of the board.

"Unilever was one of the founders of the RSPO -- an industry-led initiative set up in co-operation with the conservation organization WWF in 2003," the company says on its Web site.

Procter & Gamble isn't a member.

"We have not yet come up with a way to measure the sustainability of renewable materials or crops, such as wheat, coffee or palm oil," the company says on its Web site.

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