Each year, thousands of hectares of rainforest and other forest ecosystems such as rubber plantations are converted into oil palm plantations.
Photo: © Rich Carey/shutterstock

03.08.2018

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Land-use intensification in the tropics plays an important role in meeting global demand for agricultural commodities but generates high environmental costs. A study by researchers of the German University of Göttingen analysed the carbon costs and benefits of converting rainforests into oil palm plantations, drawing on comprehensive data on the soil and vegetation in central Sumatra, Indonesia.

Each year, thousands of hectares of rainforest and other forest ecosystems are converted into oil palm plantations in order to meet the growing demand for the oil world-wide. Indonesia and Malaysia account for nearly 85 per cent of global palm oil production, and in 2012, Indonesia had the highest deforestation rate in the world.

According to a recent study conducted by a consortium of researchers at Germany’s University of Göttingen, converting rainforest land into oil palm plantations leads to extremely high carbon emissions. One hectare of converted land equates to a loss of 174 tons of carbon, and most of this carbon will find its way into the air as CO2.

This loss estimate is higher than the figure published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to quantify the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by oil palm farming; it is also higher than the figure used by sustainable palm oil certification bodies.

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