Study: Oil Palm Plantations Wiping Out Tropical Forests In Borneo

Expanding production of palm oil in Indonesia is driving rainforest destruction and massive carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new study.

AsianScientist (Oct. 15, 2012) – Expanding production of palm oil in Indonesia is driving rainforest destruction and massive carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Indonesia is the leading producer of palm and palm kernel oil, a common ingredient in processed foods, soaps, and personal care products.

Most of Indonesia’s oil palm plantation expansion is occurring on the island of Borneo, also known as Kalimantan, which occupies a land area nearly the size California and Florida combined.

In 2010 alone, land-clearing for oil palm plantations in Kalimantan emitted more than 140 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – an amount equivalent to annual emissions from about 28 million vehicles.

Home to the world’s third-largest tropical forest area, Indonesia is also one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, due to rapid loss of carbon-rich forests and peatlands. Since 1990, development of oil palm plantations has cleared about 16,000 square kilometers of Kalimantan’s primary and logged forested lands – accounting for 60 percent of Kalimantan’s total forest cover loss in that time, according to the study’s authors.

“Despite contentious debate over the types and uses of lands slated for oil palm plantations, the sector has grown rapidly over the past 20 years,” said project leader Lisa M. Curran, a professor of ecological anthropology at Stanford University.

By combining field measurements with analyses of high-resolution satellite images, the study’s researchers generated the first comprehensive maps of oil palm plantation expansion from 1990 to 2010.

The team also gathered oil palm land lease records to estimate future land-clearing and carbon emissions from plantations. 80 percent of leases remained unplanted in 2010, and if all of these leases were developed, more than a third of Kalimantan’s lowlands would be planted with oil palm by 2020.

The team predicts that plantation expansion will contribute more than 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in 2020 – an amount greater than all of Canada’s current fossil fuel emissions.

“These plantation leases are an unprecedented ‘grand-scale experiment’ replacing forests with exotic palm monocultures,” said Curran. “We may see tipping points in forest conversion where critical biophysical functions are disrupted, leaving the region increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires, and floods.”

The article can be found at: Carlson et al. (2012) Carbon emissions from forest conversion by Kalimantan oil palm plantations.


Source: Stanford University.
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