Converting Peat Swamp to Palm Oil Plantations Contributes to Climate Change
Converting peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia into industrial oil palm and pulpwood plantations releases emissions, threatens biodiversity and ultimately accelerates climate change, according to a guest column by a Princeton professor and PhD candidate at the university.
As trees are stripped from peat swamp to make room for oil palm plantations, the peat is drained and the decomposition releases a large amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, David Wilcove, professor of public affairs and ecology and evolutionary biology, and Xingli Giam, a PhD candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, wrote in a guest post on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ blog, The Equation.
The decomposition of peat after the conversion of peat swamp forest emits about 81 million metric tons of carbon each year. The figure is higher when the carbon losses caused by the removal of trees are included, according to Wilcove and Giam.
The peat swamp forest ecosystem is already 64 percent destroyed. Nearly every basin in this region has its own assembly of fish and the conversion and drainage of peat swamp forests could result in their global extinction, Wilcove and Giam say.
Last month, Colgate-Palmolive issued a new Policy on No Deforestation, including a pledge to achieve full traceability of its palm oil supply back to the plantation by 2015. The policy commits the company to responsibly source forest commodities of pulp and paper, palm oil, soy and beef tallow. The move follows similar ones by companies that fared poorly in a recent scorecard on palm oil policies released by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The scorecard, released in March, determined that 24 out of 30 top companies in the packaged food, fast food and personal care industries have inadequate commitments or lack commitments altogether for sourcing sustainable palm oil for their products.
Photo: Xingli Giam
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