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Paper: Oil palm plantations and CO2 emissions

This paper finds that in 2007–2008, oil palm plantations directly caused 27% of total and 40% of peatland deforestation. Under a business as usual (BAU) scenario, by 2020 ∼40% of regional and 35% of community lands will be cleared for oil palm, generating 26% of net carbon emissions.

BAU scenario results indicate that ∼40% of peatlands will be planted with oil palm by 2020, with carbon emissions from peatlands projected to contribute 87% of total emissions under BAU.

Critically, outcomes from five policy scenarios that it models indicate that mitigating carbon emissions requires not only prohibiting oil palm expansion into peatlands, but also actively protecting forests in oil palm leases and Protected Areas from all causes of deforestation and degradation. Merely enforcing a moratorium on converting forests and peatlands to oil palm plantations is predicted to generate negligible carbon emissions reductions because other proximate causes (e.g., wildfires) continue to contribute to forest loss. Moreover, as agroforests are converted to oil palm plantations, smallholder agriculture may be displaced onto forested lands. It concludes that there is a need not only to constrain further oil palm expansion into forest and peatlands but also to protect secondary and logged forests from wildfire, logging and agriculture.



Industrial agricultural plantations are a rapidly increasing yet largely unmeasured source of tropical land cover change. Here, we evaluate impacts of oil palm plantation development on land cover, carbon flux, and agrarian community lands in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. With a spatially explicit land change/carbon bookkeeping model, parameterized using high-resolution satellite time series and informed by socioeconomic surveys, we assess previous and project future plantation expansion under five scenarios. Although fire was the primary proximate cause of 1989–2008 deforestation (93%) and net carbon emissions (69%), by 2007–2008, oil palm directly caused 27% of total and 40% of peatland deforestation. Plantation land sources exhibited distinctive temporal dynamics, comprising 81% forests on mineral soils (1994–2001), shifting to 69% peatlands (2008–2011). Plantation leases reveal vast development potential. In 2008, leases spanned ∼65% of the region, including 62% on peatlands and 59% of community-managed lands, yet <10% of lease area was planted. Projecting business as usual (BAU), by 2020 ∼40% of regional and 35% of community lands are cleared for oil palm, generating 26% of net carbon emissions. Intact forest cover declines to 4%, and the proportion of emissions sourced from peatlands increases 38%. Prohibiting intact and logged forest and peatland conversion to oil palm reduces emissions only 4% below BAU, because of continued uncontrolled fire. Protecting logged forests achieves greater carbon emissions reductions (21%) than protecting intact forests alone (9%) and is critical for mitigating carbon emissions. Extensive allocated leases constrain land management options, requiring trade-offs among oil palm production, carbon emissions mitigation, and maintaining community landholdings.


Carlson K. M., Curran L. M., Ratnasari D., Pittman A. M., Soares-Filho B. S., Asner G. P., Trigg S. N., Gaveau D. A., Lawrence D., and Rodrigues H. O. (2012). Committed carbon emissions, deforestation, and community land conversion from oil palm plantation expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1200452109

You can download the paper here.

ScienceDaily covers the paper here.

In this article on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), WWF make the point that while the supply of certified palm oil has grown, it needs to be matched by an increase in companies buying it.

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09 May 2012