Deforestation, Palm Oil, and the Effects on Wildlife

By Rosie Paine, student at University of Winchester

Deforestation, the cutting down of trees in a large area, or the destruction of trees by people, is one of the leading causes of climate change and species extinction. Within the UK, there is hope for an international agreement to reduce tropical deforestation by at least 50%, and to halt global forest cover loss by 2030. Such an agreement would help reduce deforestation and its resulting dangers to climate change, as clearing forests produces greenhouse gas emissions and less carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere.

One major cause of deforestation comes from the use of palm oil. Palm oil is a versatile oil that has many different properties and functions which makes it useful and widely used. It is resistant to oxidation, can increase shelf life, and becomes stable at high temperatures. Palm oil production has been one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia over the past 20 years, causing significant threat to orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos in the region. Companies that produce palm oil massively affect local communities in harmful ways. Orangutans and other species are also being pushed to the edge of extinction.

Previously, palm oil was considered a generic vegetable oil, barely existing in the public awareness and, in fact, often being hidden from consumers. However, EU laws on food information to consumers meant that food companies can no longer hide ingredients, and products containing palm oil must be labelled accordingly. Evidence shows that transparent labelling is already having a positive affect on the growth of sustainable palm oil, but there is still a long way to go. Lack of education on the consequences of palm oil use and production is a real problem. Palm oil is heavily used in Indonesia, and as a result Greenpeace published a 2008 report named “Burning Up Borneo”. This report urged the government of Indonesia to ban forest clearance and peatland degradation. Greenpeace also released another report on the Nestle corporation’s significant use of palm oil in their products, and how their use had a devastating impact on the rainforest, on climate change, and on orangutans. The work from Greenpeace and welfare organisations has led to the development of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

The EU has set a goal to phase out the use of palm oil by 2030. Campaigners have stated that the change in the law has been needed for many years, as palm oil production displaces food crops and causes environmental damage by creating an artificial market for biofuels in Europe. Biofuels were once viewed as a solution to climate change, but research shows that biofuels emit more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels due to deforestation. Deforestation linked to biofuels in Europe has led to biodiversity loss, land conflict, and labour issues. Also, deforestation puts animals at high risk due to wildfires and droughts. Deforestation can also lead to the direct loss of wildlife habitat and starvation of animals.

Across the world, laws are being introduced to tackle deforestation. Ghana has introduced a new regulation to stop illegal deforestation and promote legal timber trade. But when it comes specifically to palm oil, many countries disagree about completely banning or reducing palm oil use and production, even though palm oil is a huge contributor to deforestation. Many governments’ willingness to tackle deforestation but not one of its major causes does not provide much hope that a proper solution will be reached. Restrictions, if not complete bans, are necessary, as is more widespread public education about its environmental effects and its endangerment of animal species.







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