09/10/2007 (EU Business) - Green campaigners warned today that proposals for certifying palm oil as sustainable are flawed. As the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) presented proposals to label sustainable palm oil, Friends of the Earth groups staged an installation of screaming tree stumps outside the meeting in Brussels, representing the current environmental violations caused by producing palm oil.
Paul de Clerck, of Friends of the Earth Europe said:
"The Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil's plan to prevent destruction in producer countries is flawed, and is particularly bound for failure if the EU demand for palm oil as an energy and transport fuel continues to grow."
Accepting a mini-banner from Mr de Clerck, RSPO Chairman Jan Kees Vis thanked him and said that he fully shared Friends of the Earth's concerns about biomass and using palm oil for energy.
The RSPO has developed criteria for producing sustainable palm oil and the first RSPO-certified palm oil is expected to be on the market by December 2007. But the Friends of the Earth groups warn that the sustainability criteria are not strict enough.
The environmental organisations highlight that the RSPO could give sustainability certifications on a plantation-by-plantation basis, so a company could get a stamp of approval based on only one 'model' plantation, while other plantations are not sustainable. Current violations include deforestation, the illegal burning of land, high pesticide use and land right conflicts.
"Inevitably, palm oil companies will use a sustainability certification to greenwash, flaunting
it in all their publicity, even though it will by no means guarantee that the company is guilt-free of environmental and social violations. The RSPO must refuse to certify palm oil coming from any company still involved in destructive palm oil production." Mr de Clerck said.
The Friends of the Earth groups call for the EU to reject palm oil for energy and transport fuel, cautioning that EU demand for palm oil will drive conversion of forest to plantations on a scale far beyond that which the RSPO could guarantee is sustainable. For example, Indonesia and Malaysia plan to double their palm oil area to 18-22 million hectares, an area more then five times the size of the Netherlands. With this dramatic trend in mind, the RSPO can not provide the solution for the problems resulting from the growing demand for palm oil.
Large companies keen to start up RSPO certified plantations are likely to push other farming activities into previously unfelled areas of forest. This "leakage effect" is another shortcoming of the RSPO system – a plantation could be certified as "sustainable" even though it has indirectly caused further deforestation.
Over recent years, many palm oil companies have been in conflict with the environment and local communities. A recent study by Friends of the Earth showed that there are grave environmental and social problems on plantations owned by Wilmar, the world's biggest palm oil trader and a prominent RSPO member.