Infographic: Palm Oil and Tropical Deforestation

Palm oil is driving deforestation—with serious consequences for both climate and biodiversity.

We need tropical forests

Tropical forests play a crucial role in stabilizing the earth's climate, storing vastly more carbon dioxide (CO2) than forests in the world's temperate regions. A 2011 study estimated total carbon stored by the earth's tropical forests at 271 billion tons—that's about 7 times the total carbon emissions from fossil fuel use in the year 2008.

In addition, tropical forests play host to millions of species, comprising about two-thirds of the earth's terrestrial biodiversity.

Learn more about the importance of tropical forests >

But tropical forests are being cut down for palm oil...

Palm oil acreage worldwide increased from 15 million acres in 1990 to 40 million acres in 2011. Much of this new palm oil acreage is coming at the expense of tropical forests.

When tropical forests are cut down for palm oil, large amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. From 2001 to 2010, land-use carbon emissions from palm oil in Indonesia averaged 216 to 268 million tons—that's equivalent to the emissions from 45 to 55 million cars, 61 to 75 coal-fired power plants, or the energy use from 10 to 13 million homes.

Palm oil conversion also takes a heavy toll on tropical forest biodiversity: only 15 percent of species that inhabit tropical forests are also found on palm oil plantations. Species currently at risk from palm oil conversion include the Sumatran orangutan, elephant, and tiger, all of which are critically endangered, as well as the endangered Bornean orangutan and pygmy elephant.

...and demand for palm oil continues to rise.

Between 1990 and 2010, global production of palm oil nearly quadrupled, rising from 14.5 million tons to 54.2 million tons. And production is projected to pass 75 million tons by 2020.

This skyrocketing demand is driven by the use of palm oil as an ingredient in a broad range of common consumer products, including fast foods, baked goods, personal care and cleaning products. 

Palm oil is increasingly popular with manufacturers for several reasons—among other things, it's low in trans fats and relatively inexpensive compared to other vegetable oils.

Learn more about palm oil and deforestation >

We can fix this.

Palm oil can be grown without destroying tropical forests or our climate. Several companies have made public commitments to sustainable palm oil. But more action is needed now to save tropical forests.  Visit ucsusa.org/palmoilaction to be a part of the solution!

Take action: help promote deforestation-free palm oil >


Methodology

The information and data presented in this infographic are based largely on the UCS fact sheet, Palm Oil and Global Warming

For more information, including additional data sources, please see the infographic data sources (PDF).


Rights and permissions

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Infographic design by Graphicacy.

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