OOS 22-4 - Palm oil carbon footprints across scales and the limits of industry self-regulation in response to consumer pressure

Wednesday, August 8, 2012: 9:00 AM
A105, Oregon Convention Center
Meine van Noordwijk1, Suseno Budidarsono1, Niā€™matul Khasanah1, Sonya Dewi1 and Fahmuddin Agus2, (1)World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), (2)Indonesian Soil Research Institute, Bogor, Indonesia

Oil palm became iconic in its combination of economic success as a productive, profitable tree crop and environmental concerns of converting forests and peatlands of high carbon stocks and biodiversity value. The potential use of palm oil as biofuel pointed to gaps in international rules where responsibility for emissions in producer countries are outside the accountability of importing countries. 


A comprehensive study of carbon footprints of Indonesian palm oil, quantifying emissions due to land use history, current in-field practices and along the product value chain in 23 plantations, showed a wide divergence of results linked to land use history (carbon debt) and fraction of peatland within the source area of processing plants (with 3-5% as threshold for meeting EU RED standards). Contrary to common perceptions in the conservation world, intensification of production on existing plantations will be approximately neutral on footprint per unit product, depending on the N2O/N-fertilizer ratio. If accountability is focussed a the company level, a segregation will take place between companies targeting export to Europe or North America and those targeting Asian markets. If accounting rules apply at the commodity level, averaged over all producers, or at national scale, e.g. through 'indirect land use change' attributions, there are few incentives for improvement on current practice. Requirements for chain of custody along the value chain may well reverse the current trend which is from large plantations towards smallholder producers. Synergy between regulation of land use and market-based incentives will be needed to balance economic and ecological objectives. The voluntary self-regulation by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is considering the inclusion of specific carbon related standards, while details of the mandatory Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil rules are still under discussion. As responsibility for the land use change trajectory preceding any oil palm plantation can be contested, the date used in grandfathering standards is an important element of any environmental standard. Current proposals refer to a 40 tC/ha aboveground carbon stock as threshold for avoiding C debt on mineral soils, as this is the time-averaged carbon stock of oil palm plantations under current management.