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The environmental impacts of palm oil in context

Meijaard, Erik, Brooks, Thomas M., Carlson, Kimberley M., Slade, Eleanor M., Garcia-Ulloa, John, Gaveau, David L. A., Lee, Janice Ser Huay, Santika, Truly, Juffe-Bignoli, Diego, Struebig, Matthew J., and others. (2020) The environmental impacts of palm oil in context. Nature Plants, 6 . pp. 1418-1426. ISSN 2055-026X. E-ISSN 2055-0278. (doi:10.1038/s41477-020-00813-w) (KAR id:84676)

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Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires balancing demands on land between agriculture (SDG 2) and biodiversity (SDG 15). The production of vegetable oils, and in particular palm oil, illustrates these competing demands and trade-offs. Palm oil accounts for 40% of the current global annual demand for vegetable oil as food, animal feed, and fuel (210 million tons (Mt)), but planted oil palm covers less than 5-5.5% of total global oil crop area (ca. 425 Mha), due to oil palm’s relatively high yields5. Recent oil palm expansion in forested regions of Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula, where >90% of global palm oil is produced, has led to substantial concern around oil palm’s role in deforestation. Oil palm expansion’s direct contribution to regional tropical deforestation varies widely, ranging from 3% in West Africa to 47% in Malaysia. Oil palm is also implicated in peatland draining and burning in Southeast Asia. Documented negative environmental impacts from such expansion include biodiversity declines, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution. However, oil palm generally produces more oil per area than other oil crops, is often economically viable in sites unsuitable for most other crops, and generates considerable wealth for at least some actors. Global demand for vegetable oils is projected to increase by 46% by 20509. Meeting this demand through additional expansion of oil palm versus other vegetable oil crops will lead to substantial differential effects on biodiversity, food security, climate change, land degradation, and livelihoods. Our review highlights that, although substantial gaps remain in our understanding of the relationship between the environmental, socio-cultural and economic impacts of oil palm, and the scope, stringency and effectiveness of initiatives to address these, there has been little research into the impacts and trade-offs of other vegetable oil crops.

66 compared to alternatives for the trade-offs to be assessed at a global scale.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1038/s41477-020-00813-w
Uncontrolled keywords: palm oil
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH541 Ecology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH75 Conservation (Biology)
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Signature Themes: Food Systems, Natural Resources and Environment
Depositing User: Matthew Struebig
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2020 14:32 UTC
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2021 23:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Struebig, Matthew J.:
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