A villager walks past a smoldering field lit for land-clearing in order to grow palm oil in Minas, Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Environmental concerns over palm oil production tend to focus on rainforest felling and the plight of the orangutan. But palm oil companies are now starting to grapple with a lesser-known issue that could make a significant difference in the quest to curb climate change. The rapid expansion of palm oil cultivation has resulted in the creation of vast wastewater lagoons beside plantations in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two dominant producers.
These murky ponds, containing the brown-hued detritus from processed palm oil fruit, release a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere – a gas so potent it traps around 34 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.