Palm oil sector agrees on unified ‘no deforestation’ approach

A host of multinational organisations including Unilever, Cargill and Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) have agreed upon a single, unified definition of "no deforestation" for the palm oil industry.

At a meeting in Bangkock on Tuesday (8 November), the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Convergence Working Group reached an agreement that provides a roadmap for implementing a collaborative methodology in company palm oil operations and supply chains.

“The Agreement is a significant step in uniting the palm oil industry and all its stakeholders toward a common understanding about how to protect forests and peatlands. More importantly, it will lead to collaborative and concrete actions on the ground toward achieving this goal” Dato’ Lee Yeow Chor, chief executive of Malyasian palm giant IOI Corporation Berhad, a member of the group, said.

Game changer

Negotiations centred mainly on how to adopt verdicts from a recent, independent study – called the HSC Science Study – backed by some of the world’s biggest companies in the palm oil industry including producers, traders and users of palm oil.

The study developed a new methodology for future oil palm development, which means that new plantations will only be able to proceed if they can demonstrate that they are doing so on a carbon neutral basis.

The agreement provides a framework for resolving outstanding issues through a collaborative process, and outlines fundamental elements of the converged methodology that protects HCS forests, and High Conservation Value (HCV) areas and peatlands.

The recommendations will be incorporated into the revised HCSA toolkit which will be implemented by the companies, which also includes Greenpeace, WWF and Wilmar International, when it is issued in early 2017.

Greenpeace global head of Indonesian forests Kiki Taufik said: “Agreeing a single approach to put No Deforestation into practice is a huge step forward for the palm oil sector and the environment. HCS convergence has not been an easy road but we got there in the end – this is a game changer for the forests and communities where oil palm is expanding in Asia and Africa.”

Palm progress

Much progress has been made by private sector companies in reducing levels of deforestation over the last few years. A lot of it has been focussed on the palm oil sector, which has been responsible for a great deal of deforestation over the last few decades.

In April, multinational consumer goods firm and HSC Convergence Group member Unilever cancelled its contracts with a Malaysian-based palm oil producer and trader – which was suspended over deforestation and community conflict issues.

Despite the progress, some companies are still clearly lagging behind. A raft of consumer goods companies including PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson were recently singled out by Greenpeace for “letting their customers down” by failing to break the link between the use of palm oil in everyday products and deforestation,

Writing in an exclusive blog for edie earlier this year, environmental campaigner and HSC Science Study co-chair Jonathon Porritt stated that absolutist slogans like ‘zero deforestation’ undoubtedly help focus attention on the problem of continuing deforestation, but that they don’t necessarily help deliver the practical – let alone sustainable – solutions.

George Ogleby

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