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REPORT | DEFORESTATION – A sustainable dilemma

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Governments, regulators and industry are acting to combat deforestation, but questions remain over whether it will be fast and effective enough, panellists told a Friends of Europe Café Crossfire on 21 March.

Demand is growing for commodities such as palm oil, timber and soy, but their production has led to the conversion of forests to farmland. Deforestation is responsible for more than 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products. It issues certificates for palm oil that is produced according to specific criteria designed to reduce the negative impacts of cultivation on the environment and communities.

Environmental degradation has wiped out civilisations in the past, said Danielle Morley, European Director of Outreach and Engagement at the RSPO. The Mayan empire in central America lasted 3,000 years, but then collapsed due to the effects of over-farming and urbanisation. These effects led to deforestation, which caused regional climate change and severe droughts – which in turn exacerbated social and political unrest. “In 800AD the Mayan population was at its peak, and within 150 years just five percent of the population survived,” she said.

There are parallels with deforestation today, Morley said. “Their dilemmas are our dilemmas. Big cities and over-farming are driving deforestation. Yet we also need to feed ourselves, all 7.5 billion of us. As the world population increases, so does our need for vegetable oil – and particularly for palm oil, which is high-yielding, cheap and multifunctional. But it can only be grown in the equatorial belt, which is where some of the most biodiverse forest lies. Despite efforts over the past decade, palm oil continues to drive deforestation.”

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IMAGE CREDIT: Frazao/Bigstock

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