Archive
2020
14 - 22 Sep 2020
Module 1 - Agricultural Commodities and Sustainability Certification
12 - 20 Oct 2020
Module 2: Renewable Energy, Climate Change and Food Security
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IPOSC
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Module 2: Renewable Energy, Climate Change and Food Security:
Public Perception and Empirical Evidence: The GHG and Biodiversity Impacts of Alternative Oilseed Crops
Dr Robert M. Beyer
Dr Robert Beyer is a researcher at the University of Cambridge. Following studies in Munich, Kyoto, and Paris, including a double PhD in mathematics and forest science, his postdoctoral research has focussed on modelling the environmental footprint of global agriculture, and identifying pathways for reducing impacts whilst maximising crop yields. Dr Beyer has proven experience in a range of scientific fields, ranging from crop science and climate modelling to spatial data analysis and mathematical optimisation. Alongside his academic career, he has worked with NGOs in research and consultancy capacities.
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Oil palm has arguably been more strongly associated with environmental destruction in the public eye than any other crop. In an effort to reduce impacts, campaigns have called for the substitution of palm oil with alternative vegetable oils, and the labelling of palm oil free products. However, recent research has pointed out the possibility that this strategy may potentially have adverse effects, given that lower-yielding oil crops require up to ten times more land than oil palm to produce a given quantity of vegetable oil.

This talk presents a quantitative analysis of this issue, based on the latest global agricultural and environmental data. Combining maps of the worldwide distribution of harvested areas and yields of seven major oil crops with global carbon and biodiversity datasets reveals that oil palm has the lowest average carbon and species richness footprint per unit of oil. Substituting palm oil with other vegetable oils would therefore likely increase these impacts, instead of reducing them. Whilst impacts per unit of oil on threatened species are still higher for oil palm than most other oil crops, the results presented demonstrate that the common narrative on the environmental footprint of palm oil needs revising.

The same methods used in this analysis also make it possible to identify potential future growing locations that would combine high oil yields with low environmental impacts. The expansion of oil palm into these areas would meet global vegetable oil demand at the lowest possible environmental footprint.
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