The social and environmental impacts of palm oil production are widely recognized. And while the issues of deforestation, habitat degradation and human rights abuses are gaining momentum within the international community, measures designed to curtail them — including certification — are plagued by inefficiencies and a lack of transparency.
To address the problem of unsustainable palm oil production, the European Parliament has approved a resolution to introduce a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the European Union and phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation by 2020.
“Want an open debate with all players so we can make palm oil production sustainable, without cutting down forests and in compliance with dignified human rights conditions,” said Kateřina Konečná who drafted the resolution, which was approved by 640 votes to 18, with 28 abstentions.
“This is Parliament’s first resolution on the issue and it is up to the Commission how it acts upon it. But we cannot ignore the problem of deforestation, which threatens the Global Agreement on Climate Change COP21 and UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Forty-six percent of the palm oil imported by the EU is used to produce biofuels and while they present an attractive alternative to traditional fossil fuels, their production poses significant threats to environmental health, food security and worker safety. Additionally, in terms of lifecycle emissions, biodiesel derived from virgin vegetable oils actually produces 80 percent more emissions than traditional diesel according to a report by Transport & Environment.
The vote sends a strong message to the European Commission that the time has come to address the issues present in vegetable oil supply chains and parting ways with those that drive deforestation. MEPs are also calling on the EC to develop sustainability criteria for palm oil and palm oil-containing products entering the EU market, improve the traceability of palm oil imported into the EU and apply different customs duty schemes that reflect real costs more accurately until a single certification scheme can take effect.
MEPs have also stressed that a large portion of global production of palm oil in in breach of fundamental human rights and adequate social standards. It frequently uses child labor and there are many land conflicts between local and indigenous communities and palm oil concession holders.
Some speculate that the move could spur similar actions in the United States, where there is significant debate about implications of using farmland to grow biofuel crops, such as corn and soy, instead of cultivating it for food production. With top official spots filled by the oil and gas elite, a push for greater regulation in an effort to protect fossil interests is entirely possible, but the end result may be a beneficial one.