Posts tagged RSPO

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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Palm oil: it’s covered in greenwash

The handiwork of Sinar Mas, an RSPO member © Greenpeace/Rante

The handiwork of Sinar Mas, an RSPO member © Greenpeace/Rante

Jakarta is already a hazy blot on the horizon and we’re now sailing towards Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world and home to highly endangered species such as Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinos and of course orang-utans. It’s extremely unlikely we’ll stumble across any of those but there’s no doubting what we will see – extensive areas of oil palm and pulpwood plantations where the forests and peatlands used to be.

And we cross the equator tomorrow morning. Given the experience of pollywogs on previous Greenpeace expeditions which have crossed the line, I’m a little apprehensive about what lies in store…

Speaking of palm oil, you may have already heard of an organisation called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and from the name, you might think that the whole problem with palm oil was, if not sorted, then at least in hand. Of course, if that were the case we wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of bringing the Esperanza to Indonesia to protest about the ongoing destruction of the forests at the hands of the palm oil industry.

Established in 2001, the RSPO was designed to set clear ethical and ecological standards for producing palm oil, so no one would have their land stolen from them or have their forests demolished. The RSPO’s own website lays out the problem:

“…there is serious concern that not all palm oil is being produced sustainably at present. Development of new plantations has resulted in the conversion of large areas of forests with high conservation value and has threatened the rich biodiversity in these ecosystems… The expansion of oil palm plantations have also given rise to social conflicts between the local communities and project proponents in many instances.”

Over the years, the list of members has grown so it now includes familiar global brand names such as Unilever, Nestle, Tesco, and Cadbury’s as well as other less well-known companies – Cargill, ADM, Duta Palma, Sinar Mas, Asian Agri and other palm oil producers and traders. Their annual meeting is being held in a few weeks’ time in Bali.

So if within the palm oil industry there’s all this awareness of the potential damage they could cause to both people and the environment, why are we still finding evidence of wholesale forest destruction? Just a couple of weeks ago, we found bulldozers belonging to Sinar Mas clearing huge tracts near Jayapura in Papua, and yet Sinar Mas is an RSPO member. There’s obviously something wrong somewhere.

That something is the basic set-up of the RSPO itself. As it currently exists, its standards and principles are too vague and weak to really do any good and, as we’ve seen, some of its members are happily chewing their way through rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands. There’s no danger of actually being penalised in any way by the RSPO, even though they’re supposed to abide by the code of conduct (pdf) which states “it is fundamental to the integrity, credibility and continued progress of the RSPO that every member supports, promotes and works towards the production, procurement and use of sustainable palm oil.” What kind of “integrity” or “credibility” does the RSPO have if it turns a blind eye when its members are clearing huge areas of forest or draining and burning peatlands?

It gets worse. The first shipments of palm oil which have been certified as ‘sustainable’ by the RSPO are due to arrive in Europe later this month from Malaysia’s United Plantations. Because the RSPO is handing out these certificates while at the same time tolerating the forest-trashing activities of Sinar Mas and friends, the organisation is really just a thick coat of greenwash for its members to coat themselves in.

We’ve been taking a good hard look behind the greenwash and there’s enough evidence in the two reports we’ve published in the last year – Cooking The Climate and Burning Up Borneo – to show the RSPO isn’t working. We also made good headway earlier this year to convince companies like Unilever that they need to do more. Never the less, part of our time in Sumatra will be spent gathering yet more evidence to show that something drastic needs to be done, like an immediate moratorium on all deforestation in Indonesia while there’s still some forest worth saving.

The Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is the only one who can put this moratorium in action – write to him now and tell him what he needs to do.

posted by Jamie on board the Esperanza

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Who’s who in palm oil, part two: commercial interests

See that yellow and black blob? That's Switzerland, about the same size as the area waiting to be converted into palm oil plantations

See that yellow and black blob? That Switzerland, about the same size as the area waiting to be converted into palm oil plantations

As we saw from the helicopter flights yesterday, palm oil is beginning to make its presence felt in Papua and West Papua. So far, we’ve surveyed plantations in two areas – Lereh near Jayapura last week and of course the one near Teluk Bituni from yesterday – and compared to the vast monocultures in Sumatra and Kalimantan, these are pretty small affairs. But their presence here is a reminder that huge areas of forest have already been carved up on paper between the Indonesian government and palm oil companies, and will be carved up for real if we don’t take action.

While only 60,000 hectares of palm oil have been planted in this region, the government has handed out permits covering four million hectares (that’s just a bit smaller than Switzerland), and at the moment much of this is densely forested. Palm oil producers like Sinar Mas, Medco, Korendo and Asian Agri have been given the rights to move in and expand their huge agribusiness operations but they’re not moving in en masse, at least not yet.

Part of the reason for their hesitation is the lack of infrastructure in the region, and large chunks of land in their concessions are, at present, remote and inaccessible. So the companies are engaging in a spot of land banking, buying up the rights while they’re still cheap and waiting for things like transport and labour resources to improve before moving in to convert the land into plantations.

Another reason is the current log export ban in Papua which the governor Barnabas Suebu implemented – with no legal way to sell timber from cleared forest areas, there’s no incentive for logging companies to move in. But the lack of resources available to police this export ban plays in the favour of loggers willing to flout the law, and as we witnessed this week, logging does still continue.

Of course, this insatiable expansion wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for the increasing demand for palm oil around the world. It’s used in a bewildering range of supermarket products, not to mention the growing biofuel market. So as well as the work we’re doing here in south-east Asia, we’ve been leaning on big consumer companies in Europe and the US – companies such as Unilever – to put pressure in turn on the palm oil suppliers to stop trashing the forests.

I mustn’t forget to mention the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil which features producers, suppliers, and consumer companies on its roster of members. The RSPO is supposed to promote the environmentally responsible production of palm oil, but weak standards and regulation enforcement mean some of its members (hello, Sinar Mas) are still blithely tearing up forest and peatland areas across Indonesia with no consequences to fear.

It’s a complex tangle and negotiating practical solutions is equally knotty. So rather than descend into protracted discussions that will drag on while trees are being replaced by oil palms, the immediate answer is to stop all deforestation in Indonesia so everyone has some breathing space and there’s time to work on long-term fixes.

I heard an analogy the other day which explains this perfectly. If you’re in a leaky boat, you don’t continue sailing and patch it up as you go; you pull into harbour and carry out a proper repair job. And that’s what we need the government here to do – put everything on hold before we all sink.

posted by Jamie, on board the Esperanza

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