By IZILWANE–Voices for Biodiversity on August 12, 2013
Your family carefully sorts your trash and composts table scraps weekly and tries really hard to remember to bring cloth or canvas bags to the grocery store. Some of us drive hybrid cars and support wind power, while others ride a bike to work because they want to reduce their carbon footprint.
We do all of this because we want our children and grandchildren to live on a healthy planet. Going through these inconveniences makes us confident that we are doing all the right things and proud of the message we’re sending our kids. That could be the reason for millions of Americans to feel confused and angry when we feel the full impact of global warming and rising sea levels in the next few years.
Those of us who have had the luxury of time and who have been paying attention have done everything we can to stall the steady rise of earth’s temperature, but many of us remain unaware that we all support one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. President Obama said that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the world and said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
But who would have thought that one of the greatest causes of carbon emission is something found in most rooms of our homes? Who would have thought that one of the greatest threats to our well being comes from an Indonesian rainforest? Most Americans can’t even locate Indonesia on a map, and yet about 15 percent of global carbon pollution comes from deforestation – more than the emissions produced from all the cars, buses, trains and airplanes in the world.
It feels as if we are asleep at the wheel, and but sadly we have slept through the alarm, and it is long past the time for America to wake up.
Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.
What the heck is Palm Oil?
The oil of palm is a highly versatile, high-yield vegetable oil that is widely used in products, including baked goods, breakfast cereals, cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products; in fact, 51 percent of everything in American stores contains it. It is obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree and is the most consumed edible oil today. Because of its versatility, the demand worldwide has tripled over the last few decades.
So what is the problem with palm oil?
The problem with palm oil is the way in which it is farmed and manufactured. Current estimates indicate 90 percent of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia will be replaced by palm oil plantations unless drastic action is taken to find ways of producing it sustainably.
The production of palm oil has given rise to deforestation, plant and animal extinctions, child labor, and land grabs. This led to the creation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2003 to address these big issues head on. The RSPO was an initiative of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), who recognized the need to address some of the larger problems with palm oil.
The standards for sustainable palm oil at the RSPO were set very high. In fact, if applied fully, it could make palm oil one of the most eco-friendly options for vegetable oils in the world. The problem, however, is that the standards are not mandatory for their members. This has led to mass confusion of which RSPO members are working sustainably and which are merely using it to divert criticism.
Environmental groups – including its own founder, the WWF – have declared it a failure, and the WWF went on to join a new certification body, the Palm Oil Innovation Group, in 2013.
Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.
What can Americans do then?
We, as Americans with the ability to make an impact – negatively or positively – on palm oil production policies, must make a statement against palm oil that is causing so much global warming. I have created a petition asking Senate to introduce legislation to stop the imports of conventional palm oil – the cause of all that green house gas emissions.
We will not ask for an outright ban, as we understand the jobs of many poor workers in Indonesia and Malaysia depend on palm oil production. We must, however, exercise our own rights for a healthy future for our children and tell these palm oil companies in clear terms that we will not let polluting products to cross our border.
The United Kingdom has created a policy on palm oil use as a government, and this has led to palm oil companies scrambling to lighten their environmental impact. The European Union has made it mandatory to label clearly all products containing palm oil. The expectation there is that any product with palm oil will suffer a drop in sales as Europeans are more aware of the destruction caused by conventional palm oil.
It’s time America spoke up.
To celebrate the first ever World Orangutan Day on August 19, 2013, I will be hand delivering my petition to my senator, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), to introduce legislation to control the imports of palm oil.
You can help by signing the petition here and by writing your own letters to your senator.
– LeAnn Fox, Palm Oil Consumer Action
AsiaOne Jul 21, 2013
Most are in Riau province. The other hotspots on the island are primarily further north, in Aceh and North Sumatra.
SINGAPORE – The number of hotspots in Sumatra as tracked by satellites has gone up sharply in the last two days to reach 159 yesterday, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) said.
Of these hotspots, 63 are detected in the Riau province in central Sumatra, which is about 280km from Singapore. Some localised smoke plumes are observed to emanate from the hotspots. The other hotspots on the island are primarily further north, in Aceh and North Sumatra.
Although the smoke haze is not being blown towards Singapore at this time due to wind direction, the air quality here might take a hit if winds start to blow from the west.
At the moment, the winds are blowing from the southeast or the east.
NEA said that some states in Peninsular Malaysia have been experiencing a deterioration in their air quality since late morning yesterday with the highest Air Pollutant Index (PSI) reading at 5am today being 98 in Bukit Rambai, Malacca.
Over the next two days, dry weather conditions are expected to persist in most parts of Sumatra.
NEA will provide further haze alerts to the public if these events become more likely.
Region’s Smog Shows Need for Better Oversight; More Than US$7 Billion Lost
The 61-page report, “The Dark Side of Green Growth: Human Rights Impacts of Weak Governance in Indonesia’s Forestry Sector,” finds that illegal logging and forest-sector mismanagement resulted in losses to the Indonesian government of more than US$7 billion between 2007 and 2011. Indonesia recently introduced reforms to address some of these concerns and has been touting its forestry policies as a model of sustainable ‘green growth.’ But much logging in Indonesia remains off-the-books, fees are set artificially low, and existing laws and regulations are often flaunted. A “zero burning” policy and a moratorium on forest clearing are manifestly inadequate.
“The return of the smog is only the most tangible evidence of the damage from Indonesia’s continuing failure to effectively manage its forests,” said Joe Saunders, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “Weak law enforcement, mismanagement, and corruption are to blame not only for the smog but also for the loss of billions of dollars a year in desperately needed public funds.”
The persistent failures have global implications. The smog causing so much suffering for Indonesia’s neighbors is produced by clearing forests for agriculture, a practice so widespread that it makes Indonesia’s carbon emissions among the largest in the world. The Obama administration announced on June 26, 2013, that it would invest more in sustainable forestry overseas as a way to combat climate change. However, without improvements in governance in Indonesia, greater investments by the international community may not bring significant change in the status quo.
The Indonesian government recently introduced reforms in part aimed at addressing forest mismanagement and corruption, including a timber legality certification system and a freedom of information law, but such efforts have fallen far short of their aims. The new report, an update to the 2009 Human Rights Watch report “Wild Money,” analyzes industry and government data, concluding that the pace of revenue loss has actually increased in recent years. In 2011 alone, the losses totaled more than $2 billion – more than the country’s entire health budget for that year, undermining the government’s ability to provide basic services to its population, Human Rights Watch said.
It is not only during the dry season that Indonesians suffer the negative consequences of forest mismanagement. The significant loss of revenues contributes to the government’s disappointing progress on a number of human rights concerns, notably those related to rural health care.
Indonesia’s forest communities, among the country’s poorest groups, have been harmed the most under the current system. Many of these communities have constitutionally recognized rights to use the land and forests or be adequately compensated for their loss. But the new legality certification system does not address whether timber is harvested in violation of community rights to forest lands.
Increasing demand for land to expand plantations appears to be leading to more violent land conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. The problem is especially acute on the island of Sumatra, where the majority of pulp and oil palm plantations – and most of this year’s fire hotspots – are located, often on land claimed by local communities. The government’s failure to comply with its own regulations for issuing concessions on forest land claimed by communities and its failure to hold companies accountable for violating legally required compensation agreements have led to an escalation in disputes. For example, in 2011, the escalation of long standing land disputes associated with an oil palm plantation in the Mesuji sub-district of South Sumatra led to violent clashes between local villagers and company security, leaving two local farmers and seven company staff dead.
In May the Constitutional Court ruled that the government’s practice of allocating concessions on customary land is unconstitutional, offering some hope to those communities. However, in the current climate of opaque, unaccountable forest governance, without adequate participation and oversight, identifying and registering rights to these lucrative forestlands could easily result in more, rather than fewer conflicts, Human Rights Watch said.
A resident (R) looks at the carcass of a male Sumatran elephant, its head and trunks mutilated and ivory tusks missing, in Aceh Jaya district on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. According to Natural Resources Conservation Agency the elephant was killed by a booby trap set up by unidentified people.
In the month of May, three elephants were found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park, south of Aceh. Fewer than 3,000 endangered Sumatran elephants remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Rampant expansion of palm oil, paper plantations, and mines, has destroyed nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s forest habitat over 25 years, conservationist says, and the animals remain a target of poaching.
By Wendy Miles and Micah Fisher, Hawaii Opinion, Jakarta Post July 5
The smoke rising from fires in Sumatra can be seen from outer space. Air pollution in Sumatra, Singapore, and Malaysia has spiked, reaching levels hazardous to human health. Although the fires are of immediate concern at the regional level, they are quite disconcerting at the global scale.
The fires originate in one of Earth’s carbon super-sinks: peat swamps. Hidden underneath Sumatra’s lowland rain forests are thousands of years of partially rotted tree trunks, branches, and leaves which never fully decomposed after their submersion into water.
This dark under-world has the potential to become an inferno when exposed to air and ignited. Thus, as Indonesia’s peatlands are drained and burned, one of the world’s greatest long-term carbon sinks is being transformed into a rapid carbon source.
Scientists estimate that during the Indonesian fires of 1997, between .81-2.67 gigatons of carbon were released into Earth’s atmosphere. This is comparable to 13-40 percent of the fossil fuels emitted globally that same year, catapulting Indonesia to be ranked the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the US) according to some indices.
Over US$1.4 billion has been invested to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest fires in Indonesia. Investors include Norway, Australia, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, South Korea and Japan — as well as private companies such as Merrill Lynch, the Marubeni Corporation and Gazprom. Why are these investments not working in Riau Province, where most of the fires causing the Singapore Haze have occurred?
One strategy being pursued to combat Indonesia’s forest fires and high deforestation rates is a mechanism known as REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
Envisioned as a form of “payments for environmental services”, high-emission countries and companies pay rainforest-rich nations and communities to conserve forests, thus “offsetting” carbon emissions in one location through the sequestration of carbon in another.
This strategy is based on the premise that market logic is more effective than government regulations in curbing carbon emissions.
Indonesia now hosts more than 50 international REDD+ carbon-offsetting initiatives that promise potentially billions of dollars worth of investments. But the haze looming over Sumatra confronts REDD+ investors and Indonesia with the contradictions of market-based solutions.
Using NASA’s Active Fire Data and Indonesian Forestry Ministry concession maps of Riau, the World Resources Institute has shown that more than half of last week’s fires were on timber and oil palm concessions.
Ironically, the two corporations holding over half of these concessions are Sinar Mas and Raja Garuda Mas International (which includes Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings, Ltd.).
According to a UN-REDD inventory, these two Indonesian conglomerates fund REDD+ initiatives in Riau Province as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. Unfortunately, the emissions associated with this week’s blazes are sure to outweigh the potential offsets of REDD+ activities in Riau Province.
In the coming weeks there will be attempts to pinpoint the source of Sumatra’s peatland fires. Tracking the culprits has proven difficult in years past, as these fires are not isolated events and peat can actually smolder below ground for months or even years before resurfacing into flames.
Accusations already abound against Indonesia’s conglomerates, palm oil companies, smallholder farmers, and migrants squatting on concessions. Some of the accused are trying to increase profit margins, while others are struggling to make a daily living. But they all share the same market logic that underlies the REDD+ initiatives.
Some people will interpret these fires as an example of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. The rational individual (e.g. the Sumatran farmer or Indonesian corporation) will make ever-increasing demands on natural resources until the expected costs of his or her actions equal the anticipated benefits.
Prioritizing personal interests, individuals sharing the commons (e.g. Indonesia) ignore the impacts of their actions on others (e.g. Singapore). In the end, everyone suffers.
But Hardin’s thesis is an over-simplification of reality. Decades of research have shown that societies repeatedly overcome the risk of such tragedies — finding ways to communicate, collaborate and sustainably manage their natural resources.
The late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom recognized that the “Global Commons” presents humanity with a new challenge. Earth’s atmosphere is a case in point.
Can we come together as nations, corporations, organizations, and individuals to build an atmospheric ethic?
Wendy Miles researches the political ecology of REDD+ in Indonesia’s peatlands. Micah Fisher has long worked and lived in Indonesia. Both Miles and Fisher are PhD students at the University of Hawaii’s geography department.
By Ben Bland in Jakarta, Financial Times 6/23
Thick, stifling smoke clouds are an annual blight in the dry season on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, when forest and peatlands are illegally set alight to clear space to grow lucrative oil palm and trees for paper production.
Usually it is the millions of Indonesians who suffer the health consequences of these bad environmental practices, which are sustained by weak governance and corruption at a time when global demand for palm oil, used in everything from shampoo to biofuels, and paper products is soaring because of rapid economic growth in markets such as China and India.
Over the past two weeks, the wind blew north and east concertedly, wafting the haze to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, where air pollution levels soared to the highest on record, angering residents and rekindling a long-running diplomatic dispute that has ensnared some of the world’s biggest plantation companies.
The blame game intensified over the weekend, with the Indonesian government and NGOs trading accusations over responsibility for the fires with some of the large plantation companies operating in the region
With plantation owners, small-scale farmers, local officials in Sumatra and the national governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore all pointing the finger at each other, environmental scientists say little has changed since the last major regional haze outbreak in 1997-98 and that hopes for a co-ordinated solution to the enduring haze problem are distant.
That raises serious doubts about the ability of Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest emitters of the greenhouse gasses that are believed to cause climate change, to achieve its ambitious target to cut carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2020. READ MORE
Hotli Simajuntak | The Jakarta Post – Paper edition
Aceh’s title as a “green” province may likely end with the reactivation of production forest concessions (HPH) in Aceh by the new administration of Zaini Abdullah and Munakir Manaf.
“The Forestry Ministry is currently lobbying the new Aceh administration to reactivate the HPH, which was earlier suspended during Irwandi Yusuf’s administration,” said Greenomics Indonesia coordinator Vanda Mutia Dewi.
According to Vanda, Greenomics recorded around 10 production forest concessions from the previous Aceh administration.
Greenomics Indonesia has strongly criticized the planned reactivation of the 10 HPH permits in Aceh by the Forestry Ministry.
“We strongly criticize the plan to reactivate the HPH operation licenses, which were earlier imposed as a moratorium by previous governor Irwandi Yusuf,” said Vanda.
Vanda urged the current Aceh Governor Zaini not to commit to a political compromise by agreeing to reactivate HPH operations in Aceh.
According to her, Zaini should continue the moratorium and seek an alternative to curb illegal logging effectively and ensure the supply of timber for development and the housing needs of people.
Vanda said Greenomics Indonesia had given several reasons why it had been firm in requiring the stoppage of HPH operations in Aceh, such as the 10 HPH permits covering 819,892 hectares, which were located within and around the Leuser ecosystem.
Besides that, nearly 300,000 hectares of the forest concession areas are in the form of protected forests and conservation areas.
“The 10 production forest concessions are located in 15 regencies and mayoralties that are ecologically at risk of natural disasters, such as floods and landslides,” said Vanda.
Vanda urged Zaini to study the facts carefully and not mix particular political agendas to reactivate the HPH in Aceh.
The Aceh Indonesia Environmental Forum said that the planned issuance of HPH permits in Aceh was a step backward in efforts to save the environment, especially conservation forests in Aceh.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) even deemed that the numerous logging moratorium programs in Aceh had not been fully implemented by the former administration and had become a burden for the new administration.
“The new administration should be extra careful in issuing HPH or mining permits again as they could damage the forests in Aceh,” said Aceh Walhi coordinator Teuku Zulfikar.
- Extinction risk as Aceh opens forests for logging (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Large blocks of Sumatra’s endangered rainforest may be put up for mining, logging (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Indigenous leader speaks out on Ulu Masen: “We’ve never seen anything from REDD. It’s like the wind. We can’t see it, can’t touch it” (climate-connections.org)
- “If companies are stealing the timber, why should I be a bystander?” Notes from a visit to Ulu Masen, Aceh (climate-connections.org)
- Indonesia’s Aceh Province: Now Open for Logging. Say Goodbye to Orangutans (gettingonmysoapbox.wordpress.com)
- Leuser Ecosystem Under Serious Threat (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)