A report by Greenpeace, launched in Singapore, said the burning of Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands to build palm oil plantations releases massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Every year 1.8 billion tons of emissions are released by the practice, accounting for 4 percent of global emissions.
“Trade in palm oil by some of the world’s food giants and commodity traders is helping to detonate a climate bomb in Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands,” the report said. “Efforts to prevent dangerous climate change will not succeed unless this and other industries driving forest destruction are brought under control.”
The report honed in on the Indonesian province of Sumatra, home to a quarter of the country’s oil palm plantations. Some 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of forest are set to be slashed and burned over the next decade.
The burning of Sumatra’s peatlands — which store 14.6 billion tons of carbon — would result in the release of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to a year’s total around the globe, Greenpeace said.
The group named consumer products makers Unilever NV and Nestle, and U.S. commodity trading giant Cargill as among many large corporations that are fueling demand for palm oil from deforested land in Indonesia.
Unilever spokesman Nick Goddard in Australia said his company was involved in international efforts to “ensure that sustainable palm oil can be made available, and that no high-value conservation forests are destroyed for palm oil plantations.”
Calls to Nestle in Japan and Cargill’s offices in Asia rang unanswered Thursday.
Indonesia is the biggest global emitter of greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation, putting it third behind the United States and China in terms of total man-made emissions, the report said.
Palm oil is a primary ingredient in food and cosmetics, and in recent years its derivatives have caught on as a source of renewable energy, spurred by subsidies in many European Union countries.