WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 27, 2014) – The global agribusiness and food production company Bunge released a commitment to source deforestation and peat-free palm oil today. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is impressed with Bunge’s willingness to ensure the palm oil it sources protects forests and peatlands, but adds that the commitment is missing some implementation and traceability elements.
“Today’s commitment from Bunge will have huge implications for peatlands,” said Lael Goodman, an analyst with UCS’s Tropical Forest & Climate Initiative. “Many companies overlook peatlands’ importance. Since these areas are so carbon rich, it’s essential that companies recognize palm oil should not be grown on peatlands and that management policies for existing plantations on peatlands must be different—and Bunge is leading the charge in this regard.”
Bunge’s commitment is particularly important because they source much of their palm oil from Sarawak, Malaysia, a peat-rich area. Peatlands are wetland areas of decayed vegetation that store significant amounts of carbon. Growing oil palm on peat soil releases carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Currently, deforestation is responsible for about ten percent of all global warming emissions. Yet in Sarawak, the potential for climatic damage is direr. According to Goodman, the amount of carbon stored in Malaysian peat soils is equivalent to the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2008-2012.
The Bunge commitment includes not only protections for all peatlands, but also requires best practices for managing these lands, reporting annually and ensuring land is not burned. Goodman added that, in the past, burning peatlands to prepare them for planting has resulted in conflagrations that can burn continuously for months.
“Our hope is that Bunge’s leadership will have real implications limiting palm oil plantation expansion onto peatlands in Malaysia,” said Goodman.
However, the company’s leadership on peat does not make up for the holes in their policy. UCS’s major concerns are that Bunge’s commitment does not set deadlines for implementation, and while it rightly prioritizes tracing palm oil from high risk areas, it does not require that all palm oil be eventually traced back to the original plantation.
“The threats to tropical forests and peatlands are occurring now and these irreplaceable lands cannot wait,” said Goodman. “We need to see timelines in place to stop all peatland destruction and deforestation right now. The short-term goal is pushing companies to transition to palm oil that does not cause deforestation. But the long-term goal is implementing this commitment. And it’s only through an established timetable that we can be sure companies get serious about reducing threats to forests and peatlands.”