On April 4, Members of the European Parliament passed a resolution, calling for the European Union to introduce a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the EU market and phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation by 2020. The resolution, which was approved by 640 votes to 18, with 28 abstentions, strives to counter the impact of unsustainable palm oil production, such as deforestation and habitat degradation, particularly in South-East Asia, MEPs said.

“We want an open debate with all players so we can make palm oil production sustainable, without cutting down forests and in compliance with dignified human rights conditions,” said Czech MEP Kateřina Konečná from GUE/NGL, who drafted.

“This is Parliament’s first resolution on this issue and it is up to the Commission how it acts upon it. But we cannot ignore the problem of deforestation, which threatens the Global Agreement on Climate Change COP21 and UN Sustainable Development Goals”, she added.

UK MEP and ALDE shadow rapporteur Catherine Bearder called for putting an end to the unsustainable production of palm oil, which has a grave impact on the world’s climate and biodiversity. “EU countries must act to ensure all palm oil entering the EU is 100% sustainable, is traceable back to the source and to ensure consumers know what they are buying,” Bearder said.

“However, simply removing palm oil from all products on our supermarket shelves will not stop deforestation, which is why we have today called for all tropical oils which drive deforestation to also be phased out,” she said. “On the issue of biofuels, it is important to underline that we are only calling for the phasing out of oils that drive deforestation.”

Greens/EFA shadow Benedek Jávor from Hungary said the Parliament “has shown the way forward on how we can help protect the world’s rainforests from the devastation currently being caused by reckless palm oil production. The current approach is disastrous for the environment and for local people whose livelihoods are dependent on the ecosystems being destroyed. To prevent this, palm oil should only be imported into the EU from sustainable sources”.

Jávor called for mandatory minimum standards for the cultivation of palm oil and a comprehensive and binding sustainability certificate for producers and traders. “The Commission should now follow up with concrete steps to reduce the impact of European consumption of palm oil, including phasing out its use in biofuels by 2020 at the latest,” he said.

At the vote, MEPs reminded that 46% of the palm oil imported by the EU is used to produce biofuels, requiring the use of about one million hectares of tropical soils. They 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.

MEPs noted that various voluntary certification schemes promote the sustainable cultivation of palm oil. However, their standards are open to criticism and are confusing for consumers, they say. They advocate a single certification scheme to guarantee that only sustainably produced palm oil enters the EU market, they said.

They also called on the EU to introduce sustainability criteria for palm oil and products containing palm oil entering the EU market. The Commission should improve the traceability of palm oil imported into the EU and should consider applying different customs duty schemes that reflect real costs more accurately until the single certification scheme takes effect.

MEPs also stressed that a large part of the global production of palm oil is in breach of fundamental human rights and adequate social standards. It frequently uses child labour, and there are many land conflicts between local and indigenous communities and palm oil concession holders.

Environment organisations hailed the vote. “The Parliament is right to recognise the huge responsibility that the EU has to stop deforestation, and how important this is for climate action and sustainable development,” Greenpeace EU forest Policy Director Sebastien Risso said. “We are at one minute to midnight – the European Commission must not lose more time in putting forward an EU action plan to make Europe a deforestation-free economy and turn the tide on global forest destruction.”


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