The world’s desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has led to the popularization of vegetable oils in consumable goods and fuel. In particular the oil palm crop is especially efficient as we are able to get more oil from a single palm plant than any other vegetable crop available. That means land use efficiency, which is important in a world with an ever increasing population and shrinking resources, is maximized. What we neglected to consider are the methods used to produce palm and palm kernel oils. Oil palm producers target primary forest for cultivation so they can raise capital from selling the harvested timber. Once the viable trees are removed, the remaining brush is burned. This practice is known as “slash and burn”. Burning primary forest has been calculated to release 610 metric tons of CO2/hectare resulting in a carbon debt of 86 years. If the forest contains peatland, the resulting emissions and carbon debt are much higher. Peatland has a high carbon load and is highly flammable and can burn for months. Burning peatland is calculated to release 6000 metric tons of CO2/hectare with a carbon debt of 840 years (Fargione et al. 2008). What makes matters worse is peatland is the most efficient carbon sink in the world. If reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is our goal, we shouldn’t allow the destruction of our most efficient carbon sink. Even so, as of 2007, 1.7 x 106 hectares of oil palm plantations were planted on peatland (Page et al, 2007, Kompas 2010a). The peatland that exists in Indonesia and Malaysia are some of the oldest and deepest in the world which means they contain the most carbon.
Source: BBC News