The RSPO Journey: What are the “Next” Steps towards Making RSPO-Certified Palm Oil Truly Sustainable?



This week marks an important milestone in efforts made by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to realize their vision to “transform markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm.” The 13th Annual Roundtable Conference on Sustainable Palm Oil (dubbed RT13) is underway in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 16-19 November 2015. With more than 2,500 members in 70+ countries, the RSPO represents the entire palm oil supply chain – small growers and large-scale plantation companies, processors and traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, e

great apesven investors and social and environmental NGOs.  This broad participation is essential to achieving its stated vision.
The RT13 conference provides an interactive platform for these stakeholders from around the world to exchange best practices, common issues, challenges, and practical solutions to the demand for RSPO-certified palm oil.  The highest profile sustainability issues in today’s palm oil market include: deforestation, development or expansion on peat soils, land rights, and labor issues. 
As global demand for palm oil continues to rise, one challenge that’s sure to be central to discussions is the true sustainability of RSPO certified “sustainable” palm oil, which is increasingly being called into question.
orangutansRSPO certification is based on a set of Principles & Criteria (P&C), which include eight essential areas of focus intended to ensure palm oil is both sustainably produced and transparently traded. Certification systems for different stakeholders of the palm oil supply chain have been established, all of which follow these guidelines.  
Now, “RSPO Next" is being proposed as a new, but optional, level of certification that addresses vital issues missing from current RSPO P&C such as the use of High Carbon Stock (HCS) approaches, no use of fire, and no planting on peat. By building on their existing standards, the RSPO comes closer to being able to meet strong deforestation-free commitments made by dozens of manufacturers, suppliers, and growers in the past year – and in turn, comes closer to protecting habitat for endangered animals like orangutans. Whether these new criteria are adopted, and what process is used to verify that they’re being followed, remains to be seen as the RSPO continues to grapple with enforcement of any standards it sets.
 The timing of RT13 is of particular importance this year, as issues surrounding the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris are being talked about openly by key figures like Pope Francis and President Obama (check out the President’s new video launching his Facebook page here.) The clearing and burning of forests and peat swamps to make way for oil palm plantations is a huge driver of climate change, making Indonesia the third largest emitter of global warming pollution after China and the United States.
Philadelphia Zoo conservation partner Gerry Ellis is attending RT13 and will be providing updates on sessions and meetings as the week progresses, so be sure to check the Zoo’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for current news.
A freshly burned area that is now being replanted with oil palm in Central Kalimantan.  Photo by Greenpeace.
Indonesian Fires Update: Some good news from Indonesia concerning the continuing fires in the region: “In response to the fires that have hospitalized roughly 500,000 people, polluted skies over a large swathe of southeast Asia, and released upwards of 1.7 billion tons of carbon, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has banned clearance and conversion of carbon-dense peatlands across the archipelago.”