JAN 21, 2020 2:29 PM PST

Scientists Assess GHG Emissions Related to Palm Oil Land Conversion

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Palm oil production remains problematic in several ways, and a new study from researchers at the University of Nottingham has quantified one of these problems. Scientists know that the process of converting tropical peat swamp forests to palm oil plantations emits greenhouse gases. However, they did not know how much, and how each stage of forest conversion changed emissions over time. This new study, published this week in Nature Communications, is the first to examine levels of greenhouse gas emissions at different age stages of palm oil plantations.

Tropical peat swamps are vital carbon sinks, and according to this study, they hold 20% of global peatland carbon. Additionally, they play essential roles in nitrogen and oxygen cycles. The video below, although not directly related to this study, explains the role that peat swamps play in these cycles and how converting these habitats to palm oil plantations impacts emissions.

The University of Nottingham research team studied the North Selangor peat swamp forest in Malaysia. According to the study, Malaysia is the world’s second-largest palm oil producers, and palm oil remains the most consumed and most widely traded vegetable oil in the world. The team analyzed five sites at four different stages: secondary forest, recently drained but uncleared forest, cleared and recently planted young palm oil plantation, and mature palm oil plantation.

They discovered that the most significant fluctuations of carbon dioxide occurred during the drainage and young palm oil stages, with 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than mature palm oil plantations. The researchers estimate that converting peat swamps in this region contributes between 16.6 and 27.9% of total national greenhouse gas emissions from Malaysia and Indonesia.

In a new release from the University regarding the study, study author Dr. Sofie Sjogersten stated, “Tropical peat swamps have historically been avoided by palm oil growers due to the amount of preparation and drainage the land needs, but as land becomes more scarce there has been an increased demand to convert sites and the periphery of North Selangor is being heavily encroached upon by palm oil plantations. Our research shows that this conversion comes at a heavy cost to the environment with greater carbon and greenhouse gas emissions being caused by the early stages of the growth of palm oil.” 

According to the study, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change does not account for these greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers argue that these figures should be included when considering the sustainability of palm oil biofuels and future related policy initiatives.

Sources: University of Nottingham, Nature Communications
 

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
SEP 03, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Falling mite populations warn of global diversity crash
SEP 03, 2020
Falling mite populations warn of global diversity crash
Researchers from the University of Queensland have conducted the first-ever global mite biodiversity study and their fin ...
SEP 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
Saving Myanmar's Critically Endangered Turtles
SEP 10, 2020
Saving Myanmar's Critically Endangered Turtles
New images of hatchling Burmese roofed turtles have renewed hope to save this critically endangered species. Late last m ...
SEP 18, 2020
Earth & The Environment
What does 0.5°C more mean?
SEP 18, 2020
What does 0.5°C more mean?
What is 0.5°C warmer anyway? It doesn’t sound like that much…right? Wrong. When the United Nations Fram ...
OCT 01, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Global energy consumption in 2050: some good news
OCT 01, 2020
Global energy consumption in 2050: some good news
A study published in the journal Global Environmental Change finds hope for the future with the revelation that it ...
OCT 20, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Why the Weddell Sea is warming five times faster than the rest of the ocean
OCT 20, 2020
Why the Weddell Sea is warming five times faster than the rest of the ocean
New research published in the Journal of Climate finds that the Weddell Sea in Antarctica is warming five times fas ...
NOV 23, 2020
Plants & Animals
Can Kelp Help Reduce Acidification in the Ocean?
NOV 23, 2020
Can Kelp Help Reduce Acidification in the Ocean?
Our oceans are becoming more acidic; their pH is going down as they absorb CO2 from Earth's atmosphere. It's thought tha ...
Loading Comments...