Sustainability Standards in Oil Palm Industry: An Overview

The palm oil industry is particularly involved in the development of sustainability standards. Driven by growing global demand, palm oil production has expanded rapidly in the last few years. Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world, and its popularity has grown even more with the emergence of new market opportunities in the biofuels sector, in addition to its traditional food and oleochemical uses.

This strong growth has unquestionably contributed to the economic development of the main producer countries – Indonesia and Malaysia – which account for 87% of global production. Palm oil cultivation provides income for many smallholders, whose produce accounts for around 40% of world palm oil output.

Environmental and Socio-economic Concerns

However, the expansion of palm oil cultivation has also generated serious environmental concerns. It results in tropical deforestation and thus has a major impact on biodiversity loss, with the decline of emblematic species such as orangutan in Southeast Asia. It contributes to climate change through deforestation, but also through the conversion of peatlands, which are of vital importance in soil carbon sequestration.

The huge forest and bush fires in recent years in Indonesia which are associated with clearing lands for agricultural or forestry plantations caused severe air pollution and public health problems across the sub-region. In addition, industrial plantations are sometimes responsible for polluting waterways, into which chemical inputs and processing plant waste are dumped.

Moreover, this expansion has sometimes resulted in social abuses and human rights violations, in the form of land grabbing by plantation companies at the expense of local and indigenous communities or of the exploitation of plantation workers.

Sustainability Standards in Oil Palm Industry

Condemnation of these abuses by NGOs and growing consumer awareness of the adverse impacts of the expansion of palm oil plantation have driven the development of sustainability standards. Such standards are aimed at transforming production practices in order to mitigate their adverse environmental and social effects.

The expansion of palm oil cultivation in Southeast Asia has also generated serious environmental concerns.

In 2001, representatives of the food processing and distribution sector launched a dialogue with WWF and plantation companies, leading to the creation in 2004 of the first voluntary sustainability standard in the sector, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

There are now 2.41 million hectares of RSPO-certified plantations, while sustainable palm oil accounted for 20% of world trade in this product. Meanwhile, several other initiatives proposing a vision of palm oil sustainability have emerged, positioning themselves as either a complement or an alternative to RSPO.

New Challenges to Overcome

The development of these initiatives demonstrates the growing awareness among producers, the industry and the public authorities of the need to transform the sector to enable it to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But this proliferation of sustainability standards itself poses new challenges, even though the environmental and social problems that motivated their emergence remain unresolved.

At the institutional level, the proliferation of sustainability initiatives since the creation of RSPO reflects a real fragmentation of the regulatory framework. This proliferation also raises the question of the articulation of these voluntary standards with the public regulations and national sustainability standards that producer countries have adopted.

Finally, measures to ensure the sustainability of palm oil cultivation need to bolster their credibility by guaranteeing better inclusion of the millions of smallholders, and by contributing in an effective, measurable way to mitigating the adverse social and environmental impacts of growth in palm oil cultivation. In this field, the role of collaborative and multidisciplinary research in providing strong evidence-based impact evaluation of standards is crucial.

Note: This is an excerpt from the book Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Oil Palm (Volume 2) published by Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing. You may buy the book from this link. Use code BIOEN10 to avail special discount.

Tackling China’s Smog Problem with Renewable Energy

smog-chinaChina is currently facing serious environmental problems, with potentially few solutions. Currently, this is mostly taking the form of serious smog issues plaguing North China, with more than 24 cities on red alert. However, with airports being shut down due to lacking visibility and the economy of China being heavily disrupted, action needs to be taken to solve this serious smog problem.

While limited action has been taken, perhaps renewable energy is the key to cutting down China’s smog.

How Bad Is the Problem?

The smog problem in China has become increasing worse from 2015 to 2017, with more than 90 micrograms of pollution per meter squared. These levels of air pollution are similar to the levels recorded previous to 2014, when the Chinese premier declared a war on pollution due to the health dangers posed by rising air pollution levels.

However, since 2015, levels of air pollution have risen once again. This pollution has had hard hitting effects on urban areas, especially the Chinese capital Beijing, and has caused widespread disruption to the lives of Chinese citizens and economy of the country.

The air pollution leads to the cities becoming hotter than ever. Urban Heat Island effect, which refers to buildings absorbing the sun’s heat well, is exacerbated by the smog. In fact, a car in the heat can reach temperatures of 114 degrees Fahrenheit after just 20 minutes, making travelling on hot days nearly unbearable for any living creature. In order to decrease the heated condition of China, it is essential to decrease the amount of smog covering the cities.

What Has the Chinese Government Done?

The Chinese government has taken limited action in an attempt to minimize the air pollution being created in the country. This includes the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Plan, which acknowledged the danger posed by air pollution levels and aimed to reduce coal usage in urban areas like Beijing.

However, this is not representative of the main action the government has taken. Primarily, the Chinese government has focused on individual areas and attempting to reduce local pollution levels through efficient coal burning and banning the burning of waste materials, especially on farms. These solutions, while effective on a short-term basis, are not all that is needed, though.

Investment in renewables can reduce China's dependence on coal for power generation

Investment in renewables can reduce China’s dependence on coal for power generation

China needs to reduce its overall usage of coal produced energy, which currently stands at 64 percent of total energy consumption. While this has already been happening in China, the further introduction of renewable energy could be of great help to China’s pollution levels.

How Could Renewable Energy Help?

Many people believe renewable energy to be a small affair, something undertaken by the Western world in a vain attempt to reduce our collective guilt concerning climate change and wastage levels. This is simply not the case. Renewable energy is a $120 billion industry that receives investment and application across the world. This includes solar energy, waste-to-energy technology, wind energy, hydroelectric energy and many more attempts to reduce overall energy usage.

Through investment in renewable energy, China could reduce its dependence on coal and increase the efficiency of its energy production and economy. Smog is directly created by China’s use of coal for its energy production, and by investing in other renewable means, China can simultaneously improve its health situation.

In fact, the obviously positive nature of investment in renewable energy can be clearly seen through the Chinese government’s already existing plans to further incorporate it into the economy. In the five-year plan announced in 2016, the Chinese government explicitly stated it would decrease air pollution levels through investment in wind, solar and biomass energy production technologies.

While the plans additionally included investment in making the coal industry more efficient and reducing emissions on an industrial and commercial level, clearly renewable energy is believed to be a valid alternative energy source.

Overall, it is clear that renewable energy can certainly help with China’s serious smog problem. Whether this should be in tangent with further investment in the coal industry or necessitate the end of widespread coal usage in China is still a question for debate.

About the Author

Emily Folk is freelance writer and blogger on topics of renewable energy and conservation. To get her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter.

How Artificial Intelligence is Saving Our Planet

It takes a high level of data analysis to predict the effects of climate change and the implications of our actions to stop and adapt to it. Often, scientists have terabytes of data, but not the computing power to make sense of climate issues like hurricanes. But this level of analysis is possible with artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, AI may be the best weapon we have to combat and adapt to the effects of climate change. That’s because it can analyze large chunks of data from past events and make accurate predictions about future ones.

Today, AI is helping to monitor and predict everything from glacier retreat to commercial waste management. As innovations in “deep learning” march on, AI’s prescience will help inform scientists about climate impacts and policymakers on the most prudent steps for adaptation. Here are some critical ways AI is helping to preserve our planet.

Smarter Home Energy Use

AI is helping save the planet by assisting homeowners through energy-efficient smart homes. The Internet of Things and today’s “smart devices” let homeowners control their energy use and lower their monthly bills. Smart thermostats can adjust temperature settings for specific rooms in a house. Smart water sprinklers can change water usage based on weather forecasts. And smart security systems can cut down on false alarms calls — so fewer gas-guzzling trips by first responders. The automation, connection, and prediction power built into these smart devices allow homeowners to lower their carbon footprint.

But smart energy use is not just about conservation — it’s also about the best time to use energy. Peak energy hours like evenings are higher-demand, higher-cost times. Smart devices can automate energy use for low-demand hours. Plus, off-peak times like mid-day are when alternative energy sources like solar and wind contribute the most. Therefore, smart technology promotes renewable energy.

Soil Conservation

Soil degradation is a problem often overlooked in the media. But it has serious consequences for humanity’s ability to adapt to and survive climate change. It takes a millennium to generate only three centimeters of topsoil, and soil degradation is happening at a much faster rate. Chemicals, deforestation, erosion, and global warming are major contributors to soil degradation. And if the current rate of degradation continues, the planet’s farmable land could disappear within 60 years, according to United Nations officials.

But farmers and scientists are using AI to help conserve the soil by marshaling complex algorithms along with robots and drones to detect erosion and monitor soil health. For example, one company has developed an agricultural app to help farmers identify nutrient deficiencies within their soil. And farmers are using machine learning to predict the best times to plant, irrigate, and harvest crops based on weather changes. Accurate predictions mean less need for pesticides and fertilizers, which degrade the soil.

Exploring and Protecting Oceans

Scientists watch and test the health of oceans because they’re the best indicators of Earth’s health. Microplastics, increased CO2 levels, and ocean acidification are changing the surface of the planet. The key to protecting oceans is exploring and monitoring them for changes. Climate scientists and oceanographers are using AI technology to drive autonomous marine vehicles to the deepest depths. And some companies are developing autonomous garbage collection systems that would help remove plastics and floating debris.

Another emerging technology — blockchain — is helping to track fishing and identify illegal behavior. Blockchain is the same technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The technology acts as a transparent ledger for transactions. Blockchain is a decentralized system, which means it operates autonomously and isn’t subject to misuse and abuse. Trust is critical to international treaties that regulate fishing quotas and manage overfishing. Blockchain technology can record each fish (e.g., tuna) with a scannable code uploaded to the ledger. Therefore, retailers, customers, and regulators can confirm that fish are legally caught.

Air Pollution Detection

AI is becoming an invaluable tool for tracking our air quality and identifying sources of pollution. During accidental emissions, city air quality officials need to identify and respond quickly. Some European cities are using leak sensors and AI to help create emission maps, predict mortality rates, and estimate financial costs of emergency responses. These data points give decision makers a more accurate view of the air pollution along with more targeted remediation.

In addition to monitoring air pollution, AI is also cutting tailpipe emissions. AI manages self-driving cars to make getting from point A-to-B more efficient. Self-driving automobiles can cut oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2% to 4% annually. AI and global positioning systems operating driverless tractor-trailer rigs will make deliveries non-stop, faster, and less costly to the planet. Complex algorithms, sensors, and traffic lights are directing traffic flow in some cities. These systems are currently reducing travel time by 25%, braking by 30%, and idling time by 40%.

Evaluating the Efficacy of Action

AI is bringing powerful ways to monitor and predict threats to our environment. Synthetic thinking adds value for scientists, officials, and policymakers by giving them deeper looks into current environmental situations. Perhaps, more than anything, AI’s biggest potential lies in figuring out where solutions hit the mark and where they miss. It’s counterproductive to invest resources and time into bad solutions. But that’s highly likely, given the complexity of climate change and adaptation.

Where do we invest? Which coastline needs saving the most? What communities are at a higher risk? With dwindling resources and bigger dangers, we will face some hard decisions in the future about where to deploy our efforts. At some point, those decisions will mean life or death. We will need quick thinking and accurate data. Evaluating our options and predicting their implications is where AI will bring the most value.

Top 4 Benefits Of Natural Gas

All areas of our lives are literally run by energy. And with various options of energy consumption choices, it’s always good to know the benefits of each one of them so that you make a great consumer choice. Today, in this article, we are focusing on natural gas and are going to take you through some of its top benefits. So if that’s what you have been searching for, then you are at the correct place. Let’s get started!

  1. Clean Burning Fuel

When compared to coal, oil, and diesel, natural gas is cleaner as it emits the least percentage of carbon dioxide and other related harmful chemicals. So when you use one, you don’t have to invest in emission lowering technologies as the efficiency is top notch. Also, since it’s odorless, it makes little contribution to air pollution and doesn’t cause any harm when inhaled by people and animals.

  1. Versatile

There is a given sort of flexibility and convenience that comes with the use of natural gas. With it, you enjoy the ease of starting and turning off as it won’t take much of your time. Also, since it isn’t dependent on the wind or the sun, it can function pretty well when used with solar and wind powers. It’s a source you can depend on no matter the weather conditions outside.

So if this seems like something you would like to try out, then it’s advisable to carefully go through an apples to apples comparison of the various natural gas providers and settle for one according to your needs and financial capability.

  1. Affordable

With the current hard economic times, people are always on the lookout for affordable but efficient options when it comes to products or services affecting their billings. So natural gas couldn’t have been easily accessible at a better time. In fact, it’s by far one of the cheapest energy options in the current market. This is because, even as you calculate the long-term costs of seemingly cheap options such as generators, you will realize that they aren’t as affordable as they might appear in the beginning. Take the fuel and maintenance costs, for example, you will end up spending much more than you can ever imagine.

But this isn’t the case with natural gas. According to recent findings, its cost is expected to remain constant or relatively unchanged at least even for the next decade. So you can be sure that it’s a long-term investment, worth every cent. You make one and forget about unnecessary expenses.

  1. Reliable Delivery Infrastructure

This is probably one of the natural gas‘s primary benefits. This is because you can still receive your delivery of natural gas even during extreme weather conditions such as storms, through the pipes. A case that’s different from other energy sources. Also, the infrastructure is already established in most urban areas.

Final Thoughts

Natural gas is a clean fuel that can be used in various places while keeping the air fresh and clean. Together with this, there are various benefits associated with its use and this includes the affordability, reliable infrastructure, versatility, among others. The above list isn’t exhaustive.