Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

IUCN, an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources has ranked the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as scoring highest in both biodiversity protection and level of assurance.

In its latest report issued last week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) NL concluded that RSPO showed best results in relation to both biodiversity protection and level of assurance, attaining “almost 70 percent of the maximum score for biodiversity protection and slightly over 85 percent for the level of assurance.“

Two national palm oil sustainability standards, the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) lagged behind in both benchmarks, resulting in 16 and 18 percent respectively of the maximum score for biodiversity protection, the report said It added that MSPO scored 55 percent on level of assurance while ISPO could not be fully assessed for level of assurance criteria due to lack of information from primary sources.

“The national standards of Indonesia (ISPO) and Malaysia (MSPO), are far from satisfactory and risk providing a sustainability stamp without robust criteria and assurance,” the report said, adding that these national standards played an important role in ensuring a countrywide level playing field for palm oil producers.

Two other standards, the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) EU and Plus, the report said, showed almost equal results on both the biodiversity and level of assurance benchmark. The slight difference in relation to the level of assurance lies in how other standards are recognized, and under which conditions.

Under ISCC EU certified palm oil for biofuel sold as “EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) compliant” there is a higher risk that its certified palm consists of certified palm from other EU recognized, and possibly weaker, standards, the report said.

Meanwhile, ISCC and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards scored average and should address some areas of concern where scores are weaker.

The International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) and Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards score average and should address some areas of concern where scores are weaker.

The report contained the result of an assessment by the IUCN NL Palm Oil Taskforce of the various standards and criteria related to biodiversity protection and level of assurance in the palm oil industry. The report is hoped to be able to help companies and governments move towards sustainable palm oil, by providing insight into the quality and in the level of assurance of sustainability standards for palm oil.

The report assesses the rigor of biodiversity and assurance requirements of six sustainability standards with the largest market share in certified palm oil production. The report concludes that the newest RSPO standard of 2018 provides the best standard to protect biodiversity. The report also provides recommendations on how companies can help improve the rigor of its implementation in practice.

Palm oil has been widely seen as a major driver of biodiversity loss, but IUCN said in the report that replacing palm oil at a large scale with other oils would most likely increase the production of less land-efficient oil crops, displacing rather than halting the significant global biodiversity losses caused by palm oil (IUCN, 2018). However, limiting or halting the further expansion of palm oil (such as according to the moratorium in Indonesia) remains highly relevant.

IUCN NL supports the role of robust voluntary agro-commodity sustainability standards as an important element in a mix of governance measures that aim to improve the sustainability of agricultural production, trade, and consumption.

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