Sustainability First Campaign - How palm oil certification and consumer action can tackle deforestation

Through conscientious international partnerships, the EU can follow the promises of the Green Deal and pioneer a new chapter in environmentally responsible and future-oriented trade, explains Dr. Ibrahim Özdemir.
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By Dr Ibrahim Özdemir

Dr. Ibrahim Özdemir is the Chairman of the CSPO Advisory Board, a world-renowned ecologist and is a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). He teaches environmental ethics and philosophy at Üsküdar University, Istanbul, Turkey

29 Apr 2021

Deforestation is not just an environmental peril but a worldwide health emergency. The continued retreat of fragile ecosys­tems means that we are increasingly exposed to novel pathogens such as coronaviruses. Europe in particular must work with international partners to confront this threat and through its Green Deal lead to a more sustainable future. Neverthe­less, there is occasionally a diver­gence between perceptions of sus­tainability and the reality of it.

Palm oil, one of the most common and most-commonly misunderstood, for­est risk commodities, is an exemplary instance of such a divergence. While policymakers often associate palm oil with deforestation, positive de­velopments are leading us towards a new era of transparent supply chains and heightened international collaboration.

For example, Malaysia, the world's second-largest palm oil producer, has experienced annual falls in deforestation, partly attribut­able to a nationally mandated rubric, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO). As such, a closer examina­tion of the global palm oil sector provides the EU with an opportunity to find templates for other forest risk commodities.

Through conscientious international partnerships, the EU can follow the promises of the Green Deal and pioneer a new chapter in environmentally responsible and future-oriented trade. On behalf of CSPO, I'm delighted to introduce the 'Sustainability First' campaign, which cultivates palm oil research, analysis and expertise to foster fact-based conversations about sustainable palm oil.

Our aim is to empower eth­ical consumers to better understand how we can develop sustainable patterns of consumption that would not challenge the right of future generations to live in a healthy and prosperous world. European con­sumers, therefore, have a crucial role to play by influencing policymakers. Debates around climate policies do not happen in a vacuum - they reflect public opinion, whether that has been dictated by lobby groups or non-governmental organisations.

Consumers are a key part of the ecosystem that shapes EU policy on environmental sustainability. Fortunately, broader awareness is starting to fix some of the common misperceptions, underscoring the importance of supporting successful certification schemes. Taken with the recent and positive shift in the EU's approach - the establishment of the Joint Working Group on Palm Oil - I believe that the framework for truly collaborative partnerships is now in place.

To capitalise on this momen­tum, slow deforestation, protect eco­systems, and reverse climate change, policymakers must seize the moment and pursue functional international solutions for sustainable production, trade, and consumption. 


The Center for Sustainable Palm Oil Studies (CSPO) is a think tank dedicated to producing and disseminat­ing research on a wide range of issues pertaining to palm oil. CSPO's geographically diverse and inter-disciplinary Advisory Board, including members of parliaments and senior environmental advisors to the United Nations, offers palm oil producer countries expert support on how the transition to envi­ronmentally sustainable cultivation practices can be further strengthened and improved upon. 

This article was published as part of the Sustainability First supplement by the Center for Sustainable Palm Oil Studies (CSPO). The full supplement is available on: