International, 14 November, 2014 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that aims to raise the global awareness of sustainable palm oil and generate market demand for an important commodity that has the potential to play a key role in preserving the earth’s biodiversity.

Palm oil is the top-selling vegetable oil in the world and is found in 50 percent of all consumer goods. But conventional production methods – while offering huge economic and social opportunities for exporting nations — are highly unsustainable and can cause serious damage to the environment.

Certified Sustainable palm oil, however, complies with globally agreed environmental standards that relate to social, environmental and economic best practices. Sustainable palm oil has the potential to make a significant contribution to the post-2015 Development Agenda, including UNEP’s efforts on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and Green Economy.

 “Our hope is that by combining our political and institutional resources, we are able to add value to the efforts that are being undertaken by community groups, NGOs, national authorities and leaders in the business community,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “The RSPO deserves our support in their commitment to produce palm oil sustainably.”

“Palm oil is a classic example of where win-win opportunities arise. The palm oil sector can provide leadership on how to use a global market place to improve production patterns and transition towards a greener, more inclusive economy,” Steiner added.

The RSPO, which was founded in 2004, counts over 1,800 members and is the world’s largest sustainable palm oil certification programme. The RSPO recently received a consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

“The signing of this MoU represents an opportunity to link sustainable palm oil to UNEP’s Sustainable Consumption and Production Programme,” said Darrel Webber, RSPO Secretary General “We are very confident that RSPO can assist UNEP in delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The MoU commits both UNEP and RSPO to a framework of cooperation and understanding, and facilitates collaboration in regard to the transformation of markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm. At present, 18 percent of the global palm oil yield is certified by the RSPO, but market demand leaves half of that sustainably produced palm oil unsold.

Certification schemes for global commodities are key to adopting more sustainable production and consumption patterns and sustainable palm oil is a viable alternative to conventional production for producers and consumers. Nations that have committed to 100 percent RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden, The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Belgium, and major corporations such as Nestle, Unilever, Carrefour and Johnson & Johnson and many others have followed suit.

In December, a new European Union law will require food labels to declare explicitly what types of vegetable oil – including palm oil – are listed among the ingredients.
Indonesia and Malaysia currently account for 87 percent of the palm oil exports, although production is rapidly expanding throughout Equatorial Africa.
With this MoU, UNEP’s initiatives, such as the UNEP-UNESCO Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), will be able to engage more closely with the RSPO and its members to provide technical expertise in areas such as conservation of natural resources and biodiversity.
“The RSPO has been instrumental in establishing standards and principles that help reduce pressure on the natural habitats of many endangered species, including orangutans, whose population decline is mostly due to deforestation for conventional oil palm cultivation”, said GRASP programme coordinator Doug Cress.

“It is important that we do all we can to enforce these standards and principles, and ensure that the expansion of oil palm cultivation in Africa is done in a sustainable manner.”

UNEP and RSPO partner to raise profile of Sustainable Palm Oil from RSPO Secretariat on Vimeo.

About UNEP
The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) is the voice for the environment in the UN system. Established in 1972, UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.
UNEP is an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator promoting the wise use of the planet's natural assets for sustainable development. It works with many partners, UN entities, international organizations, national governments, non-governmental organizations, business, industry, the media and civil society. UNEP's work involves providing support for: environmental assessment and reporting; legal and institutional strengthening and environmental policy development; sustainable use and management of natural resources; integration of economic development and environmental protection; and promoting public participation in environmental management.

About RSPO
In response to the urgent and pressing global call for sustainably-produced palm oil, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders. The seat of the association is in Zurich, Switzerland, while the secretariat is currently based in Kuala Lumpur with satellite offices in Jakarta, London and Zoetermeer (NL).

RSPO is a not-for-profit association that unites stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs – to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.

Such multi-stakeholder representation is mirrored in the governance structure of RSPO such that seats in the Executive Board and project-level Working Groups are fairly allocated to each sector. In this way, RSPO lives out the philosophy of the "roundtable" by giving equal rights to each stakeholder group to bring group-specific agendas to the roundtable, facilitating traditionally adversarial stakeholders and business competitors to work together towards a common objective and make decisions by consensus.

For further information, kindly contact:  

Contact for RSPO Secretariat:  
Stefano Savi
Acting Communications Director
T: +603 2302 1500
[email protected]

Contact for UNEP:
Hugh Searight
UNEP News & Media
[email protected]
[email protected]

Get Involved

Whether you’re an individual or an organisation, you can join the global partnership to make palm oil sustainable.

As an individual

Take a stand for sustainable palm oil. See how you can influence brands and businesses.

More on individual action

As a smallholder

Discover how using sustainable farming practices through RSPO Certification can increase your yield and more.

More on smallholder impact

As an organisation

Reduce negative social and environmental impacts through producing and sourcing certified sustainable palm oil.

More on organisation influence

As a member

Quickly access resources, news and content that is important to you.

More on member content