Interdependencies and telecoupling of oil palm expansion at the expense of Indonesian rainforest

Maria Cristina Rulli*, Stefano Casirati, Jampel Dell'Angelo, Kyle Frankel Davis, Corrado Passera, Paolo D'Odorico

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Global palm oil production has greatly increased in recent years with the adoption of renewable energy policies by the E.U. and U.S.A. and growing demand for its use in food, biodiesel, and other commodities. Indonesia, the world's largest oil palm producer, has leased large tracts of forested and tribal lands as new concessions, thereby expanding oil palm plantations. While previous studies have focused on some of the important social and environmental consequences of this process, the full suite of potential environmental impacts from land conversion and cultivation remains poorly understood. Here we quantify these impacts in terms of forest loss and fragmentation, CO 2 emissions from land use change, and freshwater pollution from fertilizer application. Within all concession types, forest cover decreased by 20% and forest fragmentation increased by 44%, both of which are significantly higher than in comparable non-concession areas. We also assess to what extent CO 2 emissions and freshwater pollution are attributable to increasing palm oil demand abroad. We find that four-fifths of Indonesia's palm oil production is for export markets and that 66% of this is destined for just eight countries – India, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, Italy, Egypt, Bangladesh, and the United Kingdom. Examining these multiple impacts highlights the importance of remote policies and consumption patterns in dictating local production decisions in a telecoupled world. This work demonstrates that - in order to be truly sustainable - bioenergy initiatives must ensure that adverse environmental impacts (and the demands that drive them) are reduced globally and not simply displaced elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-512
Number of pages14
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Early online date28 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • Biofuel
  • Deforestation
  • Fragmentation
  • Globalization
  • Indonesia
  • Oil palm
  • Rainforest
  • Telecoupling
  • Water scarcity, CO2 emissions


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