Banning palm oil might displace, rather than stop, global loss of biodiversity due to a resultant increase in the production of other oil crops, a new study claims.

Released on the tails of the EU’s June decision to phase out palm oil biodiesel by 2030, the survey by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) acknowledged that palm oil was causing destruction in tropical forests, a 26 June Reuters report said.

Due to being grown in species-rich tropical areas, palm oil production could lead to catastrophic loss in biodiversity, with more than 190 species directly threatened by it.

The species under risks included orangutans, gibbons and tigers, and palm oil plantations could possible expand to areas housing more than half of the world’s endangered mammals and almost two-thirds of threatened birds, the study said.

However, switching to other oil crops may only shift the problem to regions such as South American rainforests and savannahs due to oil palms’ comparatively very high yields.

Other oil crops could require up to nine times as much as land to produce the same amount of oil as oil palm.

“Palm oil is decimating Southeast Asia’s rich diversity of species as it eats into swathes of tropical forest. But if it is replaced by much larger areas of rapeseed soya or sunflower fields, different natural ecosystems and species may suffer,” said Erik Meijaard, chair of IUCN’s palm oil task force and the study’s lead author.

The study added that certified palm oil was only marginally better in preventing deforestation than the non-certified variety, but recognised that palm oil certification was relatively new and held potential for improvement, wrote Reuters.

It also called on government to protect forests in all vegetable oil producing countries and to limit the use of palm oil in non-food applications, such as biodiesel production.

The IUCN report only examined the impact palm oil had on biodiversity without considering social or economic impacts, which the organisation intended to address in 2019.

The study was released on the sidelines of the European conference of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Paris.