EU’s regulatory push escalates palm oil sustainability issues

European_Parliament_logo.svgThe Parliament of the European Union (EU) has overwhelmingly carried a resolution on palm oil production and the deforestation of rainforests. In forming the resolution the EU considered a range of issues already covered by its commitment to International Resolutions, Protocols and Agreements. These prior commitments cover sustainability; climate change; conservation; biodiversity; and, human rights including child labour. The EU also cited the the impact of its member countries’ consumption on deforestation, the deliberations of its own committees and their reports. It’s coverage of the issue was comprehensive.

Several key elements in this multi-faceted resolution require specific mention. It called on the European Commission to honour the EU’s international commitments to halt deforestation and source 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2020. To achieve this, it called for a binding regulatory framework ensuring supply chains traceable back to the origin of raw materials, backed by a certification scheme guaranteeing that only sustainably produced palm oil enters the EU market. It also called on relevant authorities in source countries to respect human rights, including the land rights of forest dwellers, and to strengthen environmental, social and health commitments.

Reaction in Indonesia has been understandably critical. Some politicians, the palm oil industry and commentators, claiming it is an attempt to protect the EU vegetable oil industry but ignoring the EU’s extensive referencing of international agreements, protocols and its own existing regulations. A Jakarta Post commentary, consistent with other reactions within Indonesia, asserted that the EU cannot take a farm commodity out of its economy and think that would solve its problems. This misinterpretation failed to acknowledge that the EU merely seeks to remove forms of palm oil that are unsustainably produced.

EU’s new palm oil resolution is a good wake-up call for all stakeholders, consumers, investors, companies and government included, to overcome the national boundaries and accelerate the multi-stakeholder discussion on sustainable palm oil. PM.Haze also wishes to see concrete action plans on sustainable palm oil among relevant stakeholders in Singapore. Ultimately, solving the sustainable palm oil issue is key to help stop the haze that has plagued the region for over half a century.