Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 697-716

First online:

Estimation of the impact of oil palm plantation establishment on greenhouse gas balance

  • J. GermerAffiliated withInstitute of Plant Production and Agroecology in the Tropics and Subtropics, University of Hohenheim Email author 
  • , J. SauerbornAffiliated withInstitute of Plant Production and Agroecology in the Tropics and Subtropics, University of Hohenheim

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Estimates of emissions indicate that if tropical grassland is rehabilitated by oil palm plantations, carbon fixation in plantation biomass and soil organic matter not only neutralises emissions caused by grassland conversion, but also results in the net removal of about 135 Mg carbon dioxide per hectare from the atmosphere. In contrast, the emission from forest conversion clearly exceeds the potential carbon fixation of oil palm plantings. Forest conversion on mineral soils to promote continued oil palm mono cropping causes a net release of approximately 650 Mg carbon dioxide equivalents per hectare, while the emission from peat forest conversion is even higher due to the decomposition of drained peat and the resulting emission of carbon oxide and nitrous oxide. The conversion of one hectare of forest on peat releases over 1,300 Mg carbon dioxide equivalents during the first 25-year cycle of oil palm growth. Depending on the peat depth, continuous decomposition augments the emission with each additional cycle at a magnitude of 800 Mg carbon dioxide equivalents per hectare.

The creation of ‘flexibility mechanisms’ such as the clean development mechanism and emission trading in the Kyoto Protocol could incorporate plantations as carbon sinks in the effort to meet emission targets. Thus, for the oil palm industry, grassland rehabilitation is an option to preserve natural forest, avoid emissions and, if the sequestered carbon becomes tradable, an opportunity to generate additional revenue.


Carbon sequestration Emission Green house gas Land rehabilitation Savanna Tropical forest Kyoto Protocol