Palm oil giant destroying national park in Borneo

the result of Sinar Mas' operations in Kalimantan © Greenpeace/Dithajohn

Burnt forest: the result of Sinar Mas' operations in Kalimantan © Greenpeace/Dithajohn

The Esperanza is now anchored in Singapore harbour and there will be a few days of ship operations – taking on supplies and fuel, doing essential maintenance, that kind of thing. But all that’s happening without me. I disembarked yesterday and I’m finishing off a few things from a hotel in Little India. After weeks of daily cleaning chores, I have the strange urge to grapple a mop but I think the hotel staff would be bemused to say the least.

I mentioned that there was one final task left to do, however, and that’s to expose once more the environmental crimes of Sinar Mas. Across the South China Sea from here in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Sinar Mas companies are clearing forests around the Danau Sentarum National Park, a wetland area protected under the international Ramsar convention, in order to expand their palm oil operations. The buffer zone which is being logged is vital to the health and biodiversity of the park, one of south-east Asia’s largest wetland areas and home to a wide range of species including clouded leopards, orang-utans and a large population of proboscis monkeys.

According to reports in the Indonesian press, in August the Indonesian forest ministry revoked the permits of 12 companies operating in the area, seven of which belong to Sinar Mas. The loggers were breaching national conservation and biodiversity laws, but despite having its permits removed, Sinar Mas is still clearing forests around the park, showing a blatant disregard for Indonesian law and international conservation agreements. Sinar Mas is of course the same company behind the palm oil shipment we blocked in Dumai last week.

All of this is happening under the nose of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Sinar Mas is a member of the RSPO and according to the organisation’s criteria for membership, it shouldn’t be cutting down these forests. And yet it is, because its executives know that being an RSPO member doesn’t actually mean anything and they won’t be penalised. Isn’t it time the RSPO started standing by its own principles and kicking out companies like Sinar Mas who obviously don’t care about the impacts their operations are having on the environment.

It’s not just in Kalimantan, either. According to internal documents we’ve had access to, Sinar Mas is planning to ‘develop’ huge areas of the Papuan forests we visited. Large-scale clearance is already underway near Jayapura and up to 2.8 million hectares are ear-marked for palm oil plantations, most of which is on forest and peatland areas.

The RSPO’s annual meeting starts tomorrow in Bali so we’ve released this information now to throw a harsh light on the organisation’s appalling lack of commitment to its own criteria. And a bit further ahead, global climate talks are being held in Poland next month as part of the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol. The protection of forests has to be an essential part of these discussions and the Indonesian government could help lead the way by enforcing a moratorium on deforestation, so one last reminder that you can write to the president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono asking him to do just that.

posted by Jamie in Singapore


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