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As we saw in a recent article on the dark reality behind Proctor & Gamble’s ‘Thank you, Mom’ campaign, palm oil is linked to mass deforestation and the destruction of tropical forests.

But a new infographic based on a detailed research report by the US’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists shows how palm oil production – a common vegetable oil used not only as cooking oil but found in many of the foods, cleaning agents and cosmetic products that we use daily – also compounds and indeed results in climate change.


In fact, research by the UoCS suggests that deforestation is responsible for about 10 percent of all climate emissions. Despite the clear problems of deforestation associated with palm oil production, the UoCS write that:Palm oil acreage worldwide increased from 15 million acres in 1990 to 40 million acres in 2011. Much of this new palm oil acreage is coming at the expense of tropical forestsWhen tropical forests are cut down for palm oil, large amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. From 2001 to 2010, land-use carbon emissions from palm oil in Indonesia averaged 216 to 268 million tons—that’s equivalent to the emissions from 45 to 55 million cars, 61 to 75 coal-fired power plants, or the energy use from 10 to 13 million homesPalm oil conversion also takes a heavy toll on tropical forest biodiversity: only 15 percent of species that inhabit tropical forests are also found on palm oil plantations. Species currently at risk from palm oil conversion include the Sumatran orangutan, elephant, and tiger, all of which are critically endangered, as well as the endangered Bornean orangutan and pygmy elephantBut demand for palm oil continues to rise: Between 1990 and 2010, global production of palm oil nearly quadrupled, rising from 14.5 million tons to 54.2 million tons. And production is projected to pass 75 million tons by 2020This skyrocketing demand is driven by the use of palm oil as an ingredient in a broad range of common consumer products, including fast foods, baked goods, personal care and cleaning productsPalm oil is increasingly popular with manufacturers for several reasons—among other things, it’s low in trans fats and relatively inexpensive compared to other vegetable oils[/list]Tropical forests play a crucial role in stabilizing the earth’s climate, but with palm oil plantations almost tripled as a result of the intensification of demand, vulnerable forests and rich peatlands are being increasingly destroyed to make way for more and more palm oil plantations.

The report by the UoCS argues that sustainable palm oil production is possible, however companies won’t act without pressure from consumers. By only supporting companies and brands that use sustainable palm oil, conscious consumers can pressure companies responsible for the destruction of tropical forests to source only deforestation-free, peat-free palm oil. In making this choice, we can also help combat climate change and protect some of the most environmentally important forests in the world.

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