Background: Oil palm, Elaeis guineensis, is by far the most important global oil crop, supplying about 40% of all traded vegetable oil. Palm oils are key dietary components consumed daily by over three billion people, mostly in Asia, and also have a wide range of important non-food uses including in cleansing and sanitizing products. Main body: Oil palm is a perennial crop with a > 25-year life cycle and an exceptionally low land footprint compared to annual oilseed crops. Oil palm crops globally produce an annual 81 million tonnes (Mt) of oil from about 19 million hectares (Mha). In contrast, the second and third largest vegetable oil crops, soybean and rapeseed, yield a combined 84 Mt oil but occupy over 163 Mha of increasingly scarce arable land. The oil palm crop system faces many challenges in the 2020s. These include increasing incidence of new and existing pests/diseases and a general lack of climatic resilience, especially relating to elevated temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall patterns, plus downstream issues relating to supply chains and consumer sentiment. This review surveys the oil palm sector in the 2020s and beyond, its major challenges and options for future progress. Conclusions: Oil palm crop production faces many future challenges, including emerging threats from climate change and pests and diseases. The inevitability of climate change requires more effective international collaboration for its reduction. New breeding and management approaches are providing the promise of improvements, such as much higher yielding varieties, improved oil profiles, enhanced disease resistance, and greater climatic resilience.