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Research conducted at Edge Hill University (EHU) has created a spatial inventory of oil palm and peatland distributions, and quantified the global warming potential of the conversion process.



Rapid expansion of oil palm plantation into Malaysia’s tropical forest is causing irreversible environmental damage, especially in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from converted peat swamp forest.

Previous research on estimating GHG emissions from tropical peatland/oil palm conversion has treated the problem as a simple before/after scenario.



The research team mapped tropical forest/oil palm conversion at regional and local scales, and developed geospatial methodologies for accurately calculating of above-ground biomass.

The research showed that GHG emissions reach their peak in the interim stages of the conversion process (drained forest, oil palm seedlings), underlining that before/after comparisons greatly underestimate overall emissions.



Information provided to the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest management body has enabled targeted measures to tackle illegal smallholder oil palm cultivation and demonstrate the relative success of conservation measures.

The research findings have been embedded into peatland management practices via the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). In 2019, RSPO published two manuals on Best Management Practices for oil palm cultivation on peatland and the management and restoration of peatland. The use of these manuals is mandatory for the >4000 members of RSPO, who collectively control the production of more than 30% of the world’s palm oil.


More information 

Institution: Edge Hill University

Researchers: Professor Paul Aplin, Dr Christopher Marston

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Increasing palm oil sustainability to conserve Malaysia’s tropical peatland. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>