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Calls for Conservation to Collaborate with Palm Oil Industry

13 November 2016 | United Nations Environment Programme News Release

8 November 2016 – The conservation community should collaborate more closely than ever with oil palm developers if a global sustainable strategy is to be achieved and great apes and their fragile ecosystems are to be saved, according to a United Nations report released this week.

Palm Oil Paradox: Sustainable Solutions to Save the Great Apes is the result of a two-year study of palm oil development in Southeast Asia, and the steps required to ensure that the loss of biodiversity that occurred in that region is not repeated as the crop expands into Africa.

Palm Oil Paradox was produced by UN Environment through the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), the alliance of 105 national governments, conservation organizations, research institutions, UN agencies and private companies committed to ensuring the long-term survival of great apes and their habitat. The report was released at the 14th Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) meeting in Bangkok.

Among the report’s key recommendations are the placement of “certified” sustainable oil palm plantations close to great ape habitats in order to minimize irresponsible production, and the designation of “no-go” zones set aside for priority ape populations.

“This report recognizes that palm oil is here to stay and the hardline boycotts are unlikely to achieve success,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “Right now, all of the chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans in the world are classified as endangered or critically endangered, so we need to find a way to work constructively with a commodity that can either hasten extinction or offer a way forward. Palm Oil Paradox makes it clear that finding common ground with oil palm developers makes sense.”

Palm oil is a $62 billion USD industry that is available in approximately half of all the items on supermarket shelves. UN Environment signed a memorandum of Understanding with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2014 to drive consumer demand for sustainably sourced palm oil.

Palm Oil Paradox advocates for multi-stakeholder planning processes that include environmental experts at the earliest stages, along with strictly enforced “no-kill” policies and environmental teams that monitor, manage and protect great apes and high conservation value (HCV) forests.

Dr. Marc Ancrenaz is the lead editor of the report, and has worked in great ape conservation in Asia and Africa for over three decades.

“There are so many lessons to be learned from the cultivation of palm oil in Southeast Asia, not just mistakes, but successes too, and we believe it is crucial that those lessons be carried over into Africa,” Ancrenaz said. “We also felt it was important to address many of the misperceptions regarding the palm oil industry, and suggest a new dialogue that finds ways to collaborate with an industry that will only grow bigger in the years to come. The conservation of orangutans and biodiversity is our first priority, but it’s clear we need a fresh perspective if we’re going to achieve our goals in the years ahead.”

Palm Oil Paradox editor Dr. Erik Meijaard has witnessed the impact of unsustainable oil pam development from his base in Indonesia.

“It’s time we recognized that the land-use choices we make as human beings can have devastating results not just for ourselves, but for all biodiversity,” Meijaard said. “The climatic conditions that occur regularly now in Southeast Asia – the floods, the fires, the temperature rises – are no accident. These are the results of poor decisions on how to utilize the land, and how we tend to ignore the costs of deforestation. We hope this report can be used as a resource for better planning going forward. Africa may seem vast and limitless as a future site for palm oil, but Borneo and Sumatra once did too. Better management in palm oil is possible. The evidence is there that great apes can be managed in oil palm plantations. But the good examples are vastly outnumbered by the bad ones, and that needs to change.”

Sustainably sourced palm oil currently accounts for approximately 20 percent of global production, but half of that goes unsold. UN Environment believes that a larger market for sustainable palm oil will help towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted in 2015.

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