Palm oil production is a major contributor to CO2 emissions

Preparing land for palm oil plantations releases high levels of CO2, according to research published in Nature Communications. 

Palm oil is the most consumed and widely traded vegetable oil in the world.

Global demand has more than tripled in the last 18 years, from 20 million tonnes in 2000 to 70 million tonnes in 2018, this has meant that more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface is now covered by palm oil plantations.

As land is becoming more scarce, farmers are resulting in growing their palm oil on peatland swamps.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham set out to investigate the effect that this is having on the environment.

The researchers analysed five palm oil sites in Malaysia at four different stages of land-use, secondary forest, recently drained but uncleared forest, cleared and recently planted young palm oil, and mature palm oil plantations.

Laboratory analysis of the soil and gas from the sites revealed that during the drainage of young palm oil, there is more than a 50% increase in CO2 emissions.

This is because, peatland swamps hold around 20% of global carbon, by draining the peatlands, there is an increase of oxygen in the soil, which in turn increases the rate of decomposition, resulting in higher CO2 emissions.

Dr Sofie Sjogersten from the University of Nottingham’s School of bioscience said: ‘Tropical peat swamps have historically been avoided by palm oil growers due to the amount of preparation and drainage the land needs, but as land becomes more scarce there has been an increased demand to convert sites into palm oil plantations.

‘Our research shows that this conversation comes at a heavy cost to the environment, with greater carbon and greenhouse gas emissions being caused at the early stages of the growth of palm oil.’

Land use is becoming an increasing problem across the world, yesterday (January 23) the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published their land-use report which revealed that in 2017, land use, including agriculture, forestry and peatland accounted for 12% of the UK’s greenhouse.

The report outlined major steps must be taken by the UK in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Photo Credit – Pixabay


Pippa Neill


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