article

Preparing land for palm oil causes most climate damage

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

New research has found preparing land for palm oil plantations and the growth of young plants causes significantly more damage to the environment, emitting double the amount of greenhouse gases than mature plantations.

This is the first study to examine the three main greenhouse gas emissions across the different age stages of palm oil plantations. It was carried out by plant scientists from the University of Nottingham in the North Selangor peat swamp forest in Malaysia with support from the Salangor State Forestry Department. It has been published today in Nature Communications.

Palm oil is the most consumed and widely traded vegetable oil in the world. Global demand has more than tripled in the last eighteen years, from around 20 million tonnes in 2000 to over 70 million in 2018 and Malaysia is the world’s second largest producer.

The University of Nottingham researchers analysed five sites at four different stages of land use: secondary forest, recently drained but uncleared forest, cleared and recently planted young oil palm plantation and mature oil palm plantation.

Laboratory analysis of soil and gas from these sites showed that the greatest fluxes of CO2 occurred during the drainage and young oil palm stages with 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than the mature oil palms. These emissions also account for almost a quarter of the total greenhouse emissions for the region.

Intensive drainage

Tropical peat swamp forests hold around 20% of global peatland carbon. However, thecontribution of peat swamp forests to carbon storage is currently under threat from large-scale expansion of drainage-based agriculture including oil palm and pulp wood production on peatlands.

Draining peatlands increases the oxygen levels in the soil, which in turn increases the rate of decomposition of organic material, resulting in high CO2 emissions from drained peatlands. In addition to CO2, peatlands also emit the powerful greenhouse gases (CH4 and N2O8).

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.
Dr Sofie Sjogersten from the University of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences

Story credits

More information on the is available from Sofie Sjogertsen on 0115 951 6239 or  Sofie.Sjogersten@nottingham.ac.uk 

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
Email: jane.icke@nottingham.ac.uk
Phone: 0115 7486462
Location:

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Quicklink fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at Jubilee campus. For further information please contact a member of the Press Office on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email  pressoffice@nottingham.ac.uk

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798
email: pressoffice@nottingham.ac.uk