Zero-Deforestation Commitments Could Cut Indonesia’s Palm Oil GHG Emissions by a Third

June 15, 2015

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

Editor’s note: Kemen Austin is available for additional comment at +62 812 9809 9519 or Prasad Kasibhatla is available at (919) 613-8075 or

DURHAM, N.C. – A Duke University-led study finds that by strategically limiting the expansion of oil palm plantations into forests and peatlands in Indonesian Borneo, the industry could slash its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 35 percent by 2020 – while still doubling the amount of land available for palm oil production, a major commodity.  

“This reduction would be a major win for the global environment and the Indonesian economy, and could significantly contribute to the Indonesian government’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 26 percent below business-as-usual by the end of this decade,” said Kemen Austin, lead author of the new study and a doctoral student in environmental science and policy at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

In the past year, Austin notes, dozens of multinational companies have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their palm oil supply chains, placing increased pressure on the nations that grow it.

“Nations that respond smartly to this pressure will be positioned to take advantage of new opportunities in the global market,” she says.

Austin and her colleagues published their findings last month in the open-access peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE.

Their study focused on the effects of future oil palm expansion on the island of Kalimantan, a major oil palm growing region of Indonesia.

Using a logistic regression model, they predicted where oil palm expansion is likely to occur on the island by 2020 and what the resulting GHG emissions would be under a business-as-usual scenario. They then estimated the extent to which these emissions could be reduced by eliminating expansion into the island’s carbon-storing forests and peatlands under six different expansion scenarios. They also assessed the cost efficiency of each scenario.

“The GHG reduction of around 35 percent achieved via the palm oil industry’s zero-deforestation commitment appears to be the most cost-effective option,” said Prasad Kasibhatla, professor of environmental chemistry at Duke. “Significant further reductions – as high as 60 percent – could be achieved by limiting the expansion of palm oil plantations into areas with high carbon stocks, but our analysis suggests these reductions may be less cost-effective on a per-ton basis for industry.”
The study’s findings shows that the Indonesian government’s recent decision to extend its moratorium on new oil palm plantation permits in Kalimantan’s primary forests and peatlands “is a step in the right direction, and should provide a bridge towards full implementation of zero-deforestation commitments by 2020,” Austin stressed.

“However, during the moratorium’s consultation period, which is currently ongoing, the government should also consider harmonizing its moratorium policy with industry’s zero-deforestation commitments,” she added. “This includes protecting secondary forests, improving permit transparency so companies can track deforestation in their supply chains, and putting into place mechanisms for companies with existing licenses on primary forests and peatlands to set aside or swap these permits.”

Austin and Kasibhatla’s co-authors on the new study are Dean Urban and Jeffrey Vincent of Duke’s Nicholas School and Fred Stolle of the World Resources Institute.

Funding came from the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (Grant #DGE-1106401.)


CITATION: “Reconciling Oil Palm Expansion and Climate Change Mitigation in Kalimantan, Indonesia,” Kemen G. Austin, Prasad S. Kasibhatla, Dean L. Urban, Fred Stolle, Jeffrey Vincent; published May 26, 2015, in PLOS One.  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0127963