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A resounding success for the ZSL Sustainable Palm Oil symposium

The symposium "Sustainable palm oil: challenges, a common vision, and the way forward", jointly organised by the Zoological Society of London, Wildlife Conservation Society and Proforest, has been hailed as a major success.

Is palm oil really an environmental villain such as it is commonly portrayed? For years, consumers in the West have been faced with shocking images of orphaned orangutans and rainforest destruction, to the extent that many companies have banned palm oil from their products. But is this really sensible? In fact, recent evidence shows that the result of such actions could be even worse destruction, and belies a growing belief amongst many stakeholders, including major conservation organisations, that a combination of corporate engagement, market instruments, good science, and policy could revolutionise the way that palm oil is produced.

Representatives of research institutions, NGOs, palm oil producers, buyers and retailers, and national governments came together in London on 5 and 6 May 2011 to review the science behind conservation in palm oil-dominated landscapes, understand the practical and policy challenges facing conservationists and producers, and chart out opportunities for reducing the negative environmental and social impacts of this controversial crop.

The symposium heard from some of the world's leading experts how the demand for vegetable oil is projected to increase, driven by the need to feed growing human populations and by growing demand for biofuels. Palm oil cannot be replaced in the current global market without serious unintended consequences, such as the massive expansion of other oil crops. Biologists and conservation NGO representatives contributed convincing evidence that the replacement of forests with palm oil plantations leads to the loss of many rare and specialised species, an impact which may be effectively mitigated by using existing tools such as national land use planning and site-level conservation management, as well as novel approaches such as land-swaps and bio-banking. The Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the foremost amongst recent initiatives designed to transform the global supply chain in palm oil. Keynote presentations from major producers, manufacturers and retailers of oil palm products highlighted the catalytic effect of the RSPO in changing their values and decision making for the better. Finally, the participation of ministry representatives and government agencies of the UK, China, Indonesia and Liberia demonstrated the crucial role of governments in providing the policy and legislative framework which is needed to support sustainable palm oil.

The symposium vividly demonstrated the value of a multi-stakeholder approach to managing long-standing and complex conservation and production issues, and resulted in many new avenues for research and action.

Conference Presentations

Session 1: Palm Oil and Sustainability

Session 2: Palm Oil and the Environment

Session 3: Balancing Environmental and Socio-Economic Goals

Session 4: The Role of Producer Governments

Session 5: Mechanisms to Assist Sustainable Production

Session 6: The Market for Sustainable Palm Oil

Session 7: The Way Forward

Published 17.05.2011