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2016/2222(INI) - 04/04/2017 Text adopted by Parliament, single reading

The European Parliament adopted by 640 votes to 18, with 28 abstentions, a resolution on palm oil and deforestation of rainforests.

Parliament recalled that there are many drivers of global deforestation, including the production of agricultural commodities such as soy, beef, maize and palm oil. It also stated that precious tropical ecosystems, which cover a mere 7 % of the Earth’s surface, are under increasing pressure from deforestation. The establishment of palm oil plantations is resulting in massive forest fires, the drying up of rivers, soil erosion, peatland drainage, the pollution of waterways and overall loss of biodiversity.

General considerations: Parliament recalled that sustainable agriculture, food security and sustainable forest management are core objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It noted that 73 % of global deforestation arises from the clearing of land for agricultural commodities, with 40 % of global deforestation caused by conversion to large-scale monocultural oil palm plantations.

Palm oil exploitation is not the sole cause of deforestation, with the expansion of illegal logging activities and demographic pressures also responsible for this problem. The global rush for land is driven by increasing global demand for biofuel and raw materials, and by speculation on land and agricultural commodities. 

According to Parliament, in order to effectively combat deforestation linked to the consumption of agricultural commodities, EU action should consider not only palm oil production, but all such imported agricultural imports.

In this regard, Parliament recalled that Malaysia and Indonesia are the main producers of palm oil. However, Indonesia has recently become the third highest polluter of CO2 in the world and suffers from decreasing biodiversity.

Recalling that palm oil accounts for about 40 % of global trade in all vegetable oils and that the EU, with around 7 million tonnes per year, is the second largest global importer, Parliament is alarmed by the fact that around half of the area of illegally cleared forests is used for palm oil production for the EU market.

Members also noted that palm oil is used as an ingredient and/or substitute by the agri-food industry because of its productivity and chemical properties, for example its ease of storage, melting point and lower price as a raw material.

Collective responsibility: fully aware of the complexity of the issue of palm oil, Parliament emphasised the importance of developing a global solution based on the collective responsibility of many actors, including: the EU and other international organisations, the Member States, financial institutions, the governments of producer countries, indigenous people and local communities, national and multinational businesses involved in producing, distributing and processing palm oil, consumer associations, and NGOs. However, it emphasised the important role of the food industry to source sustainably produced alternatives.

Zero-deforestation: Parliament noted that a number of commodity producers and traders, retailers and other intermediaries in the supply chain, including European companies, have made commitments in the areas of zero-deforestation production. However, it considered that efforts to halt deforestation must include local capacity-building, technological aid, the sharing of best practices between communities and support to help small-holders make the most effective use of their existing croplands. It stressed the strong potential of agro ecological practices to maximise ecosystem functions via mixed, high diversity planting, agroforestry and permaculture techniques, without resorting to input dependency or monocultures.

Parliament welcomed the existence of various types of voluntary certification schemes (labels, etc), but considered that they are confusing for consumers. It called on the Commission, and all Member States who have not yet done so, to demonstrate their commitment to working towards the establishment of an EU-wide national commitment of sourcing 100 % certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) by 2020 and to working towards the establishment of an industry commitment by, inter alia, signing and implementing the Amsterdam Declaration “In Support of a Fully Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain by 2020”.

Further recommendations: Parliament also made a series of recommendations all of which aim to increase the sustainability of global palm oil production, while respecting international commitments.

These include, inter alia:

  • information campaigns on the positive environmental, social and political consequences of sustainable palm oil production;
  • the introduction of minimum sustainability criteria for palm oil and products containing palm oil that enter the EU market, making sure that palm oil in the EU;
  • the enhancement of traceability of palm oil imported into the EU;
  • the endorsement of the need, as part of the dialogue with those countries, to impose a freeze on the area under oil palm cultivation, including by introducing a moratorium on new concessions;
  • the implementation of effective corporate social and environmental responsibility measures for all producing companies;
  • working closely with other significant consumers of palm oil, such as China, India and the producing countries, so as to raise their awareness and to explore common solutions to the problem of tropical deforestation and forest degradation;
  • the introduction of obligatory requirements favouring sustainable palm oil in all national public procurement procedures.

Biofuels: lastly, Parliament noted with concern that 46 % of total palm oil imported by the EU is used for the production of biofuels and that this requires the use of about one million hectares of tropical soils. It noted that 70 % of biofuel consumed in the EU is grown/produced in the EU and, of the biofuel imported into the EU, 23 % is palm oil, mainly from Indonesia, and another 6 % is soya.

Parliament called on the Commission to take measures to phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation, including palm oil, as a component of biofuels, preferably by 2020. It noted that simply banning or phasing out the use of palm oil may give rise to replacement tropical vegetable oils being used for biofuel production, which would, in all probability, be grown in the same ecologically sensitive regions as palm oil and which may have a much higher impact on biodiversity, land use and greenhouse gas emissions than palm oil itself. It recommended finding and promoting more sustainable alternatives for biofuel use, such as European oils produced from domestically cultivated rape and sunflower seeds.