Ecosystems Collapsing In Face Of Climate Change

Millions Of Lives Depend On Ecosystems Under Siege

Some of the world’s most iconic ecosystems are collapsing due to climate change and human encroachment, which, in turn, is contributing to more climate change. Collapse of one ecosystem will contribute to the collapse of the next. As human refugees escape one danger zone, they will contribute to the creation of the next collapse. It’s a very high stakes version of the domino effect. Momentum is the enemy.

The Great Barrier Reef, for example, is under assault from ocean acidification. The Amazon rainforest has been suffering from deforestation for years and now a wicked drought is adding to the momentum of its downfall, while threatening the lives of millions of people downstream. To combat such climate-related threats, we need to stop the encroachment and expedite the healing, according to findings published in the journal Science.

wildlife conservation and deforestation

“We show that managing local pressures can expand the ‘safe operating space’ for these ecosystems. Poor local management makes an ecosystem less tolerant to climate change and erodes its capacity to keep functioning effectively,” the study’s lead author Marten Scheffer, chair of the Department of Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University, said in a press release.

The research team examined Spain’s Doñana wetlands, the Amazon rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. While many ecosystems are indeed important to the environment and to their local people, these ecosystems in particular have a global importance.

Coral reefs have gained a lot of attention recently due to the effect of ocean acidification – the increase in acidic waters due to buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide – that have led to extensive bleaching events. Worse still, studies have shown that ocean acidification is eating away at the structural integrity of these unique marine animals, causing coral to become more susceptible to both predators and disease.

In fact, the Great Barrier Reef’s growth rate has plummeted by 40 percent since the mid-1970s.

But overfishing, nutrient runoff and unprecedented amounts of dredging are exacerbating these climate change-related threats. By eliminating these stressors, the Great Barrier Reef may have a chance in our warming world.

However, like corals reefs, rainforests and wetlands around the world are also under increasing pressure from both climate change and local threats.

Mt. Kilimanjaro deforestation

Such local threats include nutrient runoff from the use of agricultural fertilizers and urban wastewater, which is degrading water quality in the Doñana wetlands in southern Spain. This, in turn, is causing toxic algal blooms that endanger the ecosystem’s biodiversity.

A warming climate could encourage more severe blooms, causing losses of biodiversity, researchers say. This ecosystem is a vital wintering site for waterfowl – hosting over half a million birds – and home to numerous unique invertebrate and plant species.

“Local managers could lessen this risk and therefore boost the wetlands’ climate resilience by reducing nutrient runoff,” explained co-author Andy Green, a professor at the Doñana Biological Station.

To reduce nutrient runoff, he added, managers could reduce fertilizer use, improve water treatment plants, and close illegal wells that are decreasing the flow of clean water to these wetlands.

When it comes to the Amazon rainforest, rising temperatures and severe dry spells, along with deforestation, are major threats to its survival.

This deadly combination could turn the ecosystem into dry, fire-prone and species-poor woodland. The United Nations has pledged to end deforestation completely by 2030, which no doubt would help. But researchers also recommend curtailing canopy damage from logging and speeding up forest regeneration. These management efforts could protect the forest from fire and maintain regional rainfall, helping the Amazon to thrive and better resist climate change.

deforestation and climate change

“Local management options are well understood and not too expensive. So there is really no excuse for countries to let this slip away, especially when it comes to ecosystems that are of vital importance for maintaining global biodiversity,” Scheffer pointed out.

“All three examples play a critical role in maintaining global biodiversity. If these systems collapse,” he added, “it could mean the irreversible extinction of species.”

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Orangutan Conservationists Can’t Stop Deforestation

Sustainable Palm Oil Wiping Out Biodiversity

A population trend analysis of Bornean orangutans reveals that, despite decades of conservation work, the species is declining rapidly – at a rate of 25 percent over the past 10 years.

University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences researcher Dr Truly Santika, an Indonesian statistician and researcher at the ARC Centre of Centre for Environmental Decisions (CEED), led the study on the critically endangered Bornean orangutans.

Analyses show declines are particularly pronounced in West and Central Kalimantan, but even in relatively well protected areas, such as the Malaysian State of Sabah, the rate of decline is still 21.3 percent.

Every year US$30-40 million is invested by governmental and non-governmental organizations to halt the decline of wild populations. The study shows that these funds are not effectively spent.

deforestation and climate change

Dr Santika said, for many threatened species, the rate and drivers of population decline were difficult to accurately assess.

“Our study used advanced modeling techniques that allowed the combination of different survey methods, including helicopter surveys, traditional ground surveys, and interviews with local communities,” Dr Santika said.

CEED Director Professor Kerrie Wilson said the new approach facilitated the break-through and, for the first time, enabled researchers to determine population trends of the species over time.

She described the study, conducted by a group of some 50 Indonesian, Malaysian, and international researchers, as “a wake-up call” for the orangutan conservation community and the Indonesian and Malaysian governments who had committed to saving the species.

One of the study’s initiators, UQ Honorary Professor Erik Meijaard said that the study’s worrying outcomes suggested the need to fundamentally rethink orangutan conservation strategies.

“The biggest threats of habitat loss and killing are not effectively addressed, despite government commitments through national action plans,” he said.

“The focus of orangutan conservation is on rescues and rehabilitation, but that only addresses the symptoms and not the underlying problem.”

According to Dr Marc Ancrenaz, a Sabah-based orangutan scientist and contributor to the study, there is hope for orangutans, despite the negative trends that the study demonstrates.

palm oil and orangutans

“As we learn more about orangutans we come to understand that the species is ecologically much more versatile than previously thought,” he said.

“Orangutans can survive in multifunctional landscapes, which includes plantations and agricultural lands. But they are very slow breeders and much more needs to be done to reduce killing rates.”

Previous studies have indicated up to 2,500 orangutans are killed annually on Borneo in conflict situations or by hunters looking for food, explaining a considerable part of the orangutan’s decline.

“Inappropriate land use planning is another major factor,” Professor Meijaard said.

“For example, 10,000 orangutans presently occur in areas that have been allocated by national and local governments to oil palm development.

“If these areas are converted to plantations without changes in current practices, most of these animals will be destroyed and the steep population decline is likely to continue.

palm oil plantation deforestation

“Viable populations of large roaming animals such as the orangutan require a network of protected forests that are properly managed, and sustainable practices outside of these protected areas.”

Biodiversity News via University of Queensland.

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information Together, we can stop deforestation and preserve biodiversity.

Forest Conservation A Rising Priority In Gabon

Gabon Will Conserve Rain Forests

Gabon has signed an $18 million deal with donors to tackle deforestation and cut its carbon emissions by half as part of a wider plan to protect the tropical forests of the Congo Basin. One of the world’s most forested countries, Gabon is the second African nation, after the Democratic Republic of Congo, to sign an agreement with the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), launched in 2015 and backed by European donor nations.

The initiative, which also covers Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo Republic and Equatorial Guinea, aims to restart protection efforts in the Congo Basin – a target for expansion of palm oil plantations as available land in Indonesia dwindles.

Protecting forests is widely seen as one of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce the emissions driving global warming. Loss and degradation of forests account for about 15 percent of emissions each year, conservation groups say.

deforestation and climate change

“This agreement is a big step forward,” Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s climate and environment minister and chairman of the CAFI, said in a statement published late on Tuesday.

“Gabon is committing to measures that, if implemented, would preserve about 98 percent of its rainforests,” Helgesen added.

Forests in the Congo Basin cover about two million square km – nearly the size of Mexico – but are shrinking by 5,600 square km a year.

The small, central African nation aims to cut its emissions by half by 2025 – compared with 2005 levels – by establishing a national land-use plan, implementing a system to monitor forests and natural resources, and improving governance of its forests.

The CAFI requires countries to create national investment plans to address the pressures driving deforestation, and aims to slow illegal logging and burning of forests that are vital to millions of people and endangered species.

forest conservation Africa

It is backed by funding from the European Union, Norway, Britain, France and Germany, and technical advice from Brazil.

“Gabon could set a standard for sustainable development that could inspire other countries in Central and Western Africa,” said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Magdy Martinez-Soliman.

“By accelerating reforms, the country will engage on a genuine green economy path that offers solutions for both climate and agriculture, and is attractive for green private sector investments more generally,” he added in a statement.

Rain Forest News via

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information Together, we can stop deforestation and preserve biodiversity.

EU Considering Palm-Oil Boycott To Curb Deforestation

Deforestation Driving Climate Change, Extinction

Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil, are resisting proposals by European parliamentarians that could limit their access to the second biggest palm oil market after India.

Government ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia, along with some regional palm oil producers, met in Jakarta on April 11 to plan a response to a resolution approved on April 4 by European parliament members concerning palm oil and deforestation.

The parliamentarians requested the EU to “introduce a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the EU market and phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation by 2020.”

They hope for an EU-wide ban on biodiesel made from palm oil by 2020, claiming that the expansion of palm oil plantations, mostly in Southeast Asia, is causing “massive forest fires, the drying up of rivers, soil erosion, peatland drainage, the pollution of waterways and overall loss of biodiversity.”

palm oil plantation deforestation

Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar called the EU proposals an “insult,” while the foreign ministry accused the EU of “protectionism” and of ignoring the rights of millions of Indonesian farmers whose main source of income is from small oil palm plots.

The growth in global demand for palm oil, which is used in a wide array of products from cosmetics and fuel to foods such as margarine and chocolate, has resulted in the massive clearing of forests, particularly in Indonesia, over the last 30 years. The slash and burn methods used on Sumatra and Borneo have led to forest and peatland fires that have enveloped Singapore and parts of Malaysia in a smoky haze that has spread as far as southern Thailand.

Images of orphaned baby elephants and orangutans rescued from cleared forests and plantations have spurred vigorous environmental activism and consumer awareness campaigns in recent years. Species such as the Sumatran elephant have been put on endangered lists, with the ensuing bad publicity forcing governments and palm oil companies to sign up for various national and international certification schemes to guarantee that palm oil products are not causing environmental damage.

palm oil and orangutans

But members of the European parliament argue that a single certification scheme is needed. “MEPs note that various voluntary certification schemes promote the sustainable cultivation of palm oil,” but “their standards are open to criticism and are confusing for consumers,” said a European parliament press release issued on April 4.

In response, Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Andi Amran Sulaiman told reporters in Jakarta that “we cannot let Europe dictate Indonesia’s agriculture. We have our own standard called Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil.”

Mah Siew Keong, the Malaysian plantation industries and commodities minister, said that “Malaysia too already has a national certification system.” He noted that “only palm oil is subjected to certification while similarly produced vegetables oils are not subject to sustainability certification,” asserting, “this is not fair.”

With the Indonesia Oil Palm Producers Association executive director Fadhil Hasan calling on the government to “retaliate,” mentioning wine, aircraft, perfume and pharmaceuticals as imports from Europe that Jakarta could target, the dispute over palm oil could undermine work started in July 2016 by the EU and Indonesia to move toward a free trade agreement, as well as disrupt longer-standing negotiations between the EU and Malaysia on a similar deal.

Indonesia is Southeast Asian’s biggest economy and accounts for almost 40% of the total 620 million population of Southeast Asia. “European companies already provide 1 million jobs here in Indonesia and we hope it can grow,” said EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, during a Nov. 2016 trade mission visit to Jakarta.With tensions over palm oil threatening to undermine free trade negotiations, some European officials sought to play down some of the concerns raised by MEPs.

deforestation and climate change

Jean-Charles Berthonnet, the French ambassador to Indonesia, described the MEP resolution as “unilaterally critical and moralizing” in an opinion article published in the Jakarta Post, though the ambassador agreed that a better certification system is needed.

“Deforestation is a very complex issue and I think we can agree on a number of points. But we need to take a broader look at deforestation because it is not caused only by the palm oil industry,” said Karmenu Vella, the EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.

Indeed, one recent agreement suggests that the EU and Indonesia can collaborate on preserving forests. In November 2016, Indonesia and the EU launched a licensing scheme that aimed to stop illegally logged timber from being exported from Indonesia — the world’s third biggest jungle area after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — to Europe, and in turn reduce deforestation across the archipelago. “Indonesia has shown true leadership and now sets a high standard for other countries to emulate,” said Vincent Guerend, the EU ambassador to Indonesia, when the initiative was launched.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

But both sides will now have to come to terms over palm oil. The April 11 meeting of palm oil growers in Jakarta was convened to plan a negotiating strategy ahead of a possible meeting with European officials in May to discuss the proposed restrictions on palm oil.

“We will do whatever we can to convince the European parliament and European countries not to implement it,” Darmin Nasution, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for economic affairs, told reporters. “We will negotiate in full force,” he added.

The European parliamentarians also accused the palm oil companies of not living up to their claims that their products are environmentally friendly. “Some companies trading in palm oil are failing to prove beyond doubt that the palm oil in their supply chain is not linked to deforestation, peatland drainage or environmental pollution, and to demonstrate that it has been produced with full respect for fundamental human rights and adequate social standards,” the MEPs stated.

Anita Neville, vice president of corporate communications and sustainability relations at Golden Agri-Resources, a Singapore-based palm oil company that manages 480,000 hectares of Indonesian palm oil plantations, said that producers hoped that the EU would not back away from the use of palm oil. “If your motivation is to tackle deforestation and poverty, you need to stay in the game and demand sustainable palm oil,” she said.

Malaysian palm oil producers Sime Darby and IOI announced in March they had joined the year-old Fire Free Alliance, which “focuses on fire prevention through community engagement.” It includes environmental groups and major forestry and agriculture companies such as pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International and major palm oil players Musim Mas Group and Wilmar International.

deforestation climate change

The Indonesian government is backing the FFA, which so far supervises activity in just 200 villages covering roughly 1.5 million hectares of land. This amounts to just over a quarter of what the Indonesian government estimates are 731 villages in seven of Indonesia’s 34 provinces where slash and burn clearances are undertaken.

Among those most affected by plantation expansion and deforestation in Indonesia is the country’s indigenous population, which is seeking more rights over traditional lands in many places that overlap with some of the country’s forests and plantations.

But granting such rights would likely make it more difficult to conduct agribusiness on up 8 million hectares of land claimed by indigenous peoples. This is seen as one reason why Indonesian President Joko Widodo belatedly cancelled a scheduled appearance at a March congress of indigenous leaders in northern Sumatra.

Rukka Sombolinggi, the newly elected head of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), said she was not surprised at the president’s reluctance to attend the event. But she added, “the problem is with the ministry of environment and forestry, they are the ones who are claiming our land as state land.”

Her group contends that giving indigenous groups legal rights to their land is the best way to ensure that forest ecologies are preserved. Rukmini P. Toheke, a prominent activist for indigenous peoples from Palu in central Sulawesi, said: “For us the forest is ‘katu vua,’ or life itself.” She added: “If we destroy the forests, we destroy our own lives.”

Deforestation News via

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. We have projects ready across Africa now. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Palm Oil Plantations vs. Biodiversity

Palm Oil Plantations Do Not Tolerate Wildlife

By Melati Kaye, Scientific American and Mongabay

I have been hiking through an oil palm plantation in Borneo for hours but have yet to see a single oil palm. Instead, mahogany and other native tree species tower overhead. Mushrooms, flowers and huge pitcher plants line my trail, uniquely adapted to the island’s peat swamp forests. This lush portion of the plantation should be ideal habitat for orangutans. I have not spotted any, but according to Hendriyanto, my guide from the plantation’s conservation team, an estimated 14 of the red apes do indeed live here.

Surveyors came up with that number by counting orangutan nests in this 657-hectare so-called “High Conservation Value” (HCV) enclave within the 18,000-hectare plantation. The population density survey and the HCV set-aside are required of oil palm companies like Hendriyanto’s employer, Ketapang-based PT Kayung Agro Lestari (PT-KAL), for eco-compliance certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a consortium that has been setting the industry’s sustainability standards since 2004.

deforestation and climate change

But one step outside this refuge lies a very different scene: blistering tropical heat and regimented rows of spiky oil palm trees spread over miles of ochre mud that turns to deep, rutted puddles after a drizzle. Borneo’s forest-to-plantation ratio has plummeted in recent decades. Satellite data show that the island’s forest cover dwindled from 76 percent to a mere 28 percent between 1973 and 2010. Deforestation has only accelerated since then, especially in 2015, when fires smoldered across 1.3 million hectares of peatland for months on end.

From an ape’s point of view, the plantation vista presents an uninhabitable hellscape. From an industry standpoint, it is a prospect of burgeoning revenue. Half of the vegetable oil consumed around the world comes from oil palms. According to data from USDA and the World Bank, the global market for palm oil and palm kernels is around $47 billion.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Can an industry maintain profitability if consumers associate palm oil with the rape of the jungle and the imminent extinction of its iconic orangutans?

Some leading oil palm companies have tried a series of conservation initiatives to show that orangutans and plantations can co-exist–hence the RSPO, the HCV enclaves and the relocation of orphaned apes to rehabilitation centers for later reintroduction back to the forest. The latest scheme is to interlink isolated HCV patches with migration “corridors” so that orangutans and other forest-dwelling creatures can disperse in accordance with their natural behaviors.

To implement such measures (and garner some third-party credibility), many companies have partnered with environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). But results have so far been elusive. Part of the problem is a general lack of data. But companies can also ignore or skimp on the NGO recommendations. Compounding matters, the RSPO and its ilk are agonizingly slow at investigating complaints, and their findings are no more than advisory, with no force of law. Moreover, Indonesian licensing laws can undermine conservation by reallocating forest leases of companies that do not exploit their allotted tracts fully or quickly enough. And with RSPO covering barely a fifth of the world’s palm oil operators, there is always a queue of wildcat planters ready to take up rescinded leases.

Orangutan-friendly forests once provided contiguous habitat for the tree-dwelling apes throughout South and Southeast Asia, from India to China to Indonesia. Human settlement shrank and fragmented the forest range, and with it the orangutan population According to a 2006 study by Cardiff University molecular ecologists Benoit Goossens and Michael Bruford, there were an estimated 315,000 orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo in 1900. Today, only an estimated 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild. They live solely in the peat-swamp forests of Borneo and Sumatra.

These peatlands were once deemed too remote and nutrient-poor for agriculture. With the advent of large-scale logging and plantations, however, they started getting cleared for development. The oil palm boom of the 1970’s kicked deforestation into hyperdrive. It began in Malaysia and, by the 1990s, spilled over into neighboring Indonesia. Together the two countries account for 80 percent of the world’s palm oil.

palm oil kills orangutans

Habitat loss not only starves orangutans, it brings them into closer contact with humans. The contact can be lethal. In a study published inPLOS in 2012, conservation biologist Erik Meijaard and his colleagues found that between 2,383 and 3,882 orangutans were killed every year in Borneo. They derived this range from nearly 7,000 interviews conducted with villagers about human-animal conflict.

In the first rounds of deforestation, when the number of displaced orangutans became too many to ignore, palm oil companies and NGOs airlifted them to rehabilitation centers or intact forest elsewhere. But relocating the apes is no longer an option, according to Karmele Sánchez, director of International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia program, an NGO rehabilitating primates. “The habitat is so heavily disturbed and fragmented,” she says, that “there isn’t near enough forest to put all rescued orangutans.” Instead of overcrowding protected areas like national parks, Sanchez urges plantation operators to accommodate their resident orangutans onsite. For RSPO members, this means a greater emphasis on HCV inholdings within their plantation tracts.

In 2010, Greenpeace activists ran a TV ad showing a man chomping into a Nestlé’s chocolate bar only to find, to his horror, blood dribbling down his chin. Cut to a jungle scene of a screaming orangutan. Then the punch line: “Ask Nestlé to give rainforests a break.”

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Partly in response, Nestlé joined the RSPO and temporarily docked one of its most environmentally egregious palm oil suppliers, Jakarta-based Sinar Mas. The company also redesigned its “responsible sourcing guidelines” to only buy palm oil from law-abiding plantations that maintained peatlands, as well as “high carbon” and “high conservation value” forests on their property.

But some environmentalists are unconvinced that such efforts are effective. Hardi Baktiantoro, co-founder of the Center for Orangutan Protection in Jakarta, Indonesia, likens them to “mopping the floor while ignoring the still-gushing tap that’s causing the puddle in the first place.” Others, like Michelle Desilets of the policy think-tank Orangutan Land Trust in Derbyshire, England, remain agnostic: “the RSPO is not a perfect solution but it is the only way to get larger consensus” on orangutan conservation and protection on palm plantations.

But whereas the RSPO may be useful for setting industry standards, its efficacy for enforcing them is another matter. When RSPO-member company First Resources, based in Singapore, converted its HCV patches into palm plantations, IAR filed a complaint with the standard-setting consortium. That was 10 years ago; the case is still pending. Even the model HCV enclave that PT-KAL so proudly showed me was smaller than what was recommended by the biodiversity assessors it contracted. Why should companies go overboard with HCV set-asides when they could lose their forest leases for under-exploiting their conditional “use permits”? The RSPO has yet to reconcile this incongruity between its own charter and Indonesian licensing laws. It does not help that RSPO sanctions are not binding, anyway. The organization’s charter says companies will be kicked out for flouting their commitments, but repeated NGO “hit lists” of violators have led to few reprimands.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that some conservationists see the RSPO as a cynical exercise in “greenwashing”–dressing up business-as-usual practices with a semblance of environmental stewardship while shirking any real change. After all, the whole endeavor was conceived for PR purposes to begin with, notes Marc Ancrenaz, co-founder of the Malaysia-based NGO, HUTAN. “Companies comply because they want a good image.”

Sonny Sukada, the sustainability director at PT KAL’s parent company ANJ, maintains that the reduced size of the HCV area was needed to “align” the company’s commitment to local communities and its planting objectives, in addition to conservation needs.

In an email, RSPO communications manager Letchumi Achanah acknowledged that the RSPO complaint system was a “long process.” But she defended the speed of negotiations as necessary to “engage” the complainers and the offending party “rather than taking action on the involved party,” which might “formally end a complaint sooner but leave no avenue for improvement on the ground.” As for greenwashing, Acanah noted, “palm oil production has been linked to deforestation, violation of labor rights and displacement of local communities.” The RSPO was set up to address this “urgent concern.”

orangutan conservation

The HCV concept is hardly unique to the palm oil industry. First developed in 1999 by the Forest Stewardship Council to manage timber plots, it has since been adopted by nine sustainability-certification schemes, including those for soy, wood and pulp producers. But in new palm plantations, the HCV enclaves are particularly beleaguered.

Hendriyanto, of PT KAL’s conservation team, says at least once a month he spots orangutans outside the enclaves at large in the plantation. There, they’ll eat the palm shoots and fruits, adds Nardiyono, Hendriyanto’s boss. With an estimated 100 to150 of them at a time roaming through the plantations, he adds, they present a ready target for human depredations. Villagers have been known to catch the stray orangutans for pets or food. There even is a record of a non-RSPO palm company offering bounties for dead orangutans as a means of protecting their crop.

To guard against such outcomes, Hendriyanto uses booming “sound cannons” to herd the runaways back into their protected areas. As further insurance, the monitored HCV patches are surrounded by moats to contain animals and keep out forest fires. That arrangement may spare the orangutans from human attack, but it creates siege-like conditions that may be stressful for the animals.

The enclaves make for high-density habitat, which is anathema to the orangutan’s free-roaming nature, according to Gail Campbell-Smith an IAR conservation biologist who trains PT KAL staff in wildlife management. Overcrowding means more competition for food and, hence, increased aggression. In fact, researchers recently documented a female orangutan teaming up with a male to kill another female – a striking departure from the species’ usual norms of mutually tolerant females.

Isolated populations also lead to inbreeding and eventually “genetic erosion,” says Cardiff University professor Michael Bruford, who researches the genetics of fragmented animal populations. An “eroded” or generally smaller gene pool makes communities more susceptible to disease and extinction.

To relieve such isolation, IAR and other NGOs and government offices, are discussing a network of wildlife corridors. The eventual goal is to link all the privately held HCV patches in PT KAL’s vicinity, together with the Gunung Palung National Park 40 kilometers to the north and the 1,070 hectares of protected forest maintained for carbon credits by the nearby village of Laman Satong.

Their plan is ambitious but it is not the first of its kind. Two plantations owned by RSPO-member company United Plantation in Central Kalimantan have already established wildlife corridors of their own. And then there is the grandfather of such schemes: a 15 kilometer-long, 25- to 50-meter-wide orangutan corridor in Malaysia maintained for the past five years by RSPO-member company PT Wilmar Berhad, which is headquartered in Singapore.

The wildlife corridor strategy has at least a 40-year history. It has been applied to species ranging from lions in Africa to pandas in China. Some animals take to them better than others. Australian sugar gliders, for instance, want no part of them.

Indonesia deforestation

So how will they play out with orangutans? The limited geographic span and duration of the existing corridors mean that it is still too early for data-driven answers. But odds are that results will depend on how much connectivity can be achieved. University of Zurich anthropologist Carel van Shaik, who has been studying orangutans since the 1980s, says that populations can rebound, but only if the islands of remaining habitat can be somehow bridged so that animals can travel between them.

The viability of the corridors will depend, first, upon their physical dimensions. So far, PT KAL has built just one “corridor”: two rows of oil palms that they allowed to go fallow, connecting an HCV plot with the Laman Satong forest. The area was set aside in July, 2015, and so far just one orangutan has been sighted in it.

But even that narrow corridor represented a revenue sacrifice on the company’s part, so Campbell-Smith hesitates to push for more width. Instead, she aims to expand the corridor network by incorporating riverbanks within the plantations. Not only do the rivers provide migrating animals with abundant food and water, but Malaysian and Indonesian law guarantee the watercourses 30- to 100-meter buffer zones, to safeguard against floods and pollution.

Borneo and Sumatra biodiversity threatened

Indeed it is far more effective to link up HCV enclaves using already legally protected natural features, than to carve new corridors out of deforested plantation land, says conservation biologist Matthew Struebig of the University of Kent in England. Struebig, who is under contract with the Malaysian government for a review of tropical wildlife corridor studies, nevertheless admits, “you can create the best design but if the company doesn’t adopt it then it’s useless. You need to make it easy for them.”

When it comes to displaced orangutans, though, solutions are rarely easy. It takes far too long to implement and evaluate wildlife management solutions. In the meantime the animals and their habitat are diminishing rapidly. Under such circumstances, it might seem prudent to err on the side of conservation. But the lure of fast profits pulls in the opposite direction.

Forest Conservation News via

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Indonesia Vows To Fight Deforestation

Bans New Palm Oil Plantations

By Ben Otto, Wall Street Journal

Indonesia will temporarily bar new palm oil and mining operations to help protect the country’s vast tropical forests following international criticism over its environmental stewardship.

A spokesman for Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Friday that the ban would likely take effect this year and last for an undetermined time. The moratorium would halt new permits for palm oil and mining operations, both mainstays of Indonesia’s economy. Mr. Widodo suggested growers could double production on existing lands if they farmed more efficiently.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Foreign officials and environmental activists have criticized Indonesia for the rapid loss of its tropical rainforest, mainly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, much of it tied to land conversion to support palm oil and pulp production. Dry-season fires used by farmers and companies to clear forest and scrublands regularly send toxic smoke billowing throughout the region, raising air pollution levels in neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. Mr. Widodo vowed during and after global climate talks in Paris last year to improve Indonesia’s record on its rain forests.

Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the news but expressed skepticism about its implementation because the ban’s authority rests on a presidential decree, which carries less weight than a law. The group pointed to a current ban on palm oil licenses in peatland and some forest areas that it says isn’t adequately being enforced.

“We have learned from weak enforcement of the existing moratorium that a presidential instruction lacks teeth,” said Kiki Taufik, forest campaigner for Greenpeace in Indonesia.

The moratorium would come as Mr. Widodo struggles to restore Southeast Asia’s largest economy to higher growth rates amid slack demand from China and budget cuts it has imposed. The economy grew by 4.7 percent last year, greatly underperforming the rate of growth it enjoyed a few years ago during a commodities boom.

Palm oil has grown into a $20 billion export industry in Indonesia, fed by a global boom for the edible oil used in products from toothpaste and candy bars to cleaning products. Growers want to expand from production of 32.5 million metric tons of palm oil last year to 40 million by 2020, an effort they have said requires adding millions of hectares of lands for production.

deforestation and climate change

The Indonesian Palm Oil Association said it was still seeking details about the plan and highlighted the importance of the industry for export earnings and millions of jobs.

“The palm oil sector is a strategic sector that contributed to exports (of almost) $19 billion in 2015, and this figure is much higher than foreign exchange from exports of oil and gas,” the association said.

Golden Agri-Resources, the world’s second-largest palm oil company and a unit of Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas, supported the government’s move. “Any government initiative that is focused on intensification over land expansion is to be applauded,” said its spokeswoman Anita Neville.

Ms. Neville said that the company’s yields are already among the sector’s highest, but that the challenge is to spread capacity gains among millions of smallholders.

Mining experts said the move wasn’t immediately a cause for alarm and said that a steadily extending moratorium in forest areas had led most companies to understand that forests are effectively off limits. Many companies in sectors like coal have meanwhile cut back due to low global prices and demand.

Supriatna Suhala, executive director of the Indonesian Coal Mining Association, said the moratorium would allow the government to improve governance and monitoring and help reduce illegal mining.

“In the situation of prolonged low prices of mining products due to significant oversupply, presumably a lot of (our) members will agree with the policy,” he said.

Exact rates of Indonesian deforestation have varied with different figures quoted by researchers and government, but a new study, which claims to be the most comprehensive yet, suggests that nearly twice as much primary forest is being cut down as in Brazil, the historical global leader in deforestation.

Indonesia is the world’s third-largest producer of greenhouse gases behind China and the US, with 85 percent of its emissions coming from forest destruction and degradation. Primary forests are the largest above-ground carbon stores in the world.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Rainforest Destruction Driven By Commodities

Fewer Than 10 Percent Of Major Corporations Have Policies Against Deforestation

The world’s rainforests have been decimated over the past 20 years. The destruction is accelerating again as corporations are waving false flags of sustainability.

The Global Canopy Programme’s Forest 500, the world’s first rainforest ratings agency that analyses the most influential companies, investors and governments in the race towards a deforestation-free global economy, today launched its annual results. It revealed that while the corporate sector improved marginally overall, many laggards are yet to make public sustainability commitments.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Commercial agriculture drives at least two thirds of tropical deforestation yet only 8 Percent of all the 250 powerbroker companies assessed have zero or zero net commitments in place that apply across forest risk commodities (palm oil, soya, beef, leather, paper, and timber).

The investment community has made even more limited progress, with the exception of BNP Paribas (France) who has become the first Forest 500 investor to make a commitment to zero net deforestation in their agricultural lendings.

The 2015 Forest 500, assessed and ranked 250 companies, with total annual revenues in excess of US $4.5 trillion; 150 investors and lenders; 50 countries and regions; and 50 other influential actors in this space. These 500 power brokers play a major role in supply chains for commodities fueling deforestation, which accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, a key contributor to climate change.

Andrew Mitchell, Founder and Executive Director of the Global Canopy Programme said, “GCP’s Forest 500 holds the most influential global players to account for their role in the deforestation economy. Together, these 500 power brokers control the complex supply chains of key ‘forest risk commodities’ that are found in over 50% of packaged products in supermarkets.

deforestation and climate change

“Through these commodities, we are all part of a hidden deforestation economy – from our toothpaste, to our pensions. At this crucial time leading up to the international climate change negotiations, GCP is calling on these companies and investors to take the first critical step in addressing tropical deforestation by adopting, strengthening and implementing deforestation policies in their value chains.”

The 2015 Forest 500 Results

  • Despite 2020 being a key deadline set by the New York Declaration on Forests, one year on since its publication, few powerbrokers have made new or strengthened procurement and production commitments.
  • Whilst the corporate sector has improved marginally overall, many laggards are yet to make public sustainability commitments. Only 8% of all the 250 powerbroker companies now have zero or zero net commitments in place that apply across all forest risk commodities.
  • The corporate leader board remains unchanged, with; Groupe Danone (France), Kao Corp. (Japan), Nestlé S.A. (Switzerland), Procter & Gamble (US), Reckitt Benckiser Group (UK), and Unilever (UK) the only companies to score 5 points.
  • New York Declaration signatories lead the way towards achieving zero deforestation in agricultural supply chains scoring on average three times higher than non-signatories.
  • The investment community has made even more limited progress with less than 1% of investors adopting zero or zero net commitments that apply to all of their investments or lendings in agricultural supply chains.
  • BNP Paribas (France) has become the first Forest 500 investor to make a commitment to zero net deforestation in their agricultural lendings and joins HSBC (UK) in the top score band.
  • Of the jurisdictions assessed, none has significantly strengthened their national or state-level deforestation policies to improve their Forest 500 score.

Séverin Fischer, BNP Paribas, Head of Environment and Extra Financial Accountability, said, ‘BNP Paribas has taken the strategic decision to make a zero net deforestation commitment that will be implemented by 2020. This applies to all our lendings in agricultural commodities as it makes both commercial and environmental sense, we are managing risk over the long term. The Forest 500 is an important benchmarking tool that helps us recognise risk in our portfolios and we are delighted that our leadership position has been recognised, we hope others will follow.’

koalas deforestation

Tom Bregman, Project Manager of the Forest 500 said, ‘The Forest 500 platform now includes significant enhancements which enable users to compare progress across sectors and target their engagement with powerbrokers to incentivise change. In the coming months, the Forest 500 is going to be working with others, together we hope to create a race to the top.’

While there has been some improvement overall in the corporate sector, performance continues to be poor. Of the 31 companies that did not have any policy in year one, only four made a new public policy related to sustainable production/procurement of agricultural commodities this year. Furthermore, three companies dropped from one point to zero points due to a reduction in the amount of information that is publicly available (on their respective websites).

  • Interestingly, North American headquartered companies make up 20% of the total membership of the Forest 500 and 33% of improvers are based here highlighting the progress that companies headquartered in North America are making.
  • Driving behaviour change is central to the Forest 500 and so credit goes to the 31 companies who moved up by at least one point, with five (Astra Agro Lestari, Groupe Eram, Grupo Bimbo, Mewah International, and News Corp.) moving up by two points and also to McDonalds and Bunge for introducing zero net deforestation policies across all of their commodities this year.
  • Members of the Consumer Goods Forum, on average, score twice as many points as non-members.

sustainable palm oil deforestation

Performance of the investment community was even worse than the corporate sector.

  • Nearly a third of investors assessed had no policies in place relating to their investments and lending.
  • However, the number of investors scoring two points out of five has increased from 35 to 44, with reductions in those scoring zero or one points.
  • 18 investors improved their score by one or more points with three improving by two points (ATP, Columbia Threadneedle Investments, and Ontario Teachers Pension Plan).
  • Overall there was an increase in the number of investors making commodity-specific sourcing policies. Specifically, the number of investors making lending commitments in relation to soy and cattle companies, increased from eight to 11 and six to eight respectively.

Of the remaining powerbrokers that make up the 500, little has changed. Incremental progress has been made across forest, trading and subnational jurisdictions, with no countries releasing more comprehensive national policies focused on tackling deforestation.

Forest Conservation News via

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Deforestation A Crime Against Humanity

Deforestation Kills More Than Trees

By Arleen Richards, Epoch Times

Ensuring deforestation is given a proper place in global climate change discussions is an ongoing goal of the New York Declaration of Forests which was formalized at last year’s U.N. Climate Summit.

The Declaration—which codifies the willingness of 180 governments, companies, indigenous community networks and civil society organizations to halve natural forest loss by 2020 and end it by 2030—was a major accomplishment in 2014 and will be on the agenda again at this year’s U.N. Sustainable Development Summit on Sept. 25.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

A panel discussion was held on Sept. 23 in preparation for those talks, to review the accomplishments over the last year towards achieving the goal of ending deforestation for commercial agriculture and developing more sustainable practices for the businesses that rely on land. The companies that signed on agreed to reduce the environmental and high carbon impact of several key commercial agricultural products such as palm oil, timber, cattle, and soy beans.

Deforestation is the second leading contributor to carbon emissions after the burning of fossil fuels, according to the Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization committed to land and water. Forests protect soil from erosion, produce oxygen, store carbon dioxide, and help control climate. When trees are cut down, the carbon dioxide is released into the air.

Referring to this week’s Development Summit, which has a broader focus than just climate issues, Eduardo Goncalves, International Communications Director for The Climate Group, talked about the importance of keeping forests on the agenda.

deforestation and climate change

“Climate really seems to be at the heart of the discussion and it’s absolutely right that forestry is a key element of that debate as well,” he said in opening remarks to kick off the panel.

More than 60 million hectares (about 232,000 square miles) of tropical forest have been converted to agriculture since 2000, according to Supply Change, which is tracking progress on the Declaration.

Panelists discussed the tremendous effort that has gone into getting the issue of deforestation on the climate agenda and the importance for the private sector to buy-in to the ambitions of the Declaration.

Stephen Donofrio, with Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, in giving a progress report noted that just under 20 percent of the company endorsers are based in Southeast Asia; manufacturers and retailers who are receiving the most consumer scrutiny are mainly in North America; and food product sector makes up one-third of endorser companies.

Donofrio said that if a company is really committed to signing on it needs to incorporate that into its own corporate documentation, and in 92 percent of the companies they tracked, they are doing just that.

In order for the vision of the Declaration to work, Dominic Waughray, member of the executive committee of the World Economic Forum, praised the efforts of all participants, but noted that this is “a governmental issue” because as he said, they are the “stewards in the resource space.”

wildlife conservation and deforestation

He said governments have to change the way they think about forests. “The forest is a endowment which isn’t just an economic resource that can be turned into a product and sold somewhere else to make the economy work.” He urged governments to take a more long term approach and manage the natural resources in a sustainable way that would attract more and more investment and be very profitable for the poorest countries.

He sees the joint efforts of the declaration commitments as creating a leadership role for those countries that have a forest endowment to deliver on sustainable goals to their economies and create jobs for the people

“That’s the journey we’re going down with this. That’s the road to Paris,” he said referring to the World Climate Summit in December.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Investors, Stakeholders Demand Reforms In Palm Oil Industry

Editorial Note: The following development is good news for the last forests, but it doesn’t appear to address the issue of endangered species and biodiversity. That is one of the weak links in the current RSPO scheme of smoke and mirrors. Presently, palm growers and buyers can kill endangered species and still conform. They have gone to great lengths to dodge this bullet. One reason is that deforestation isn’t the only threat to these animals. Once removed from their homes, those that survive can never return for a snack or a drink of water. They are shot and killed. In some cases, bounties have been paid for dead orangutans. Sumatra is ground zero in this war over biodiversity, but this reckless and destructive industry is making similar impacts elsewhere around the tropics today.

Sustainable Palm Oil A Sham

Institutional investors worth trillions of dollars, along with some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, have called on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to quickly plug loopholes in its palm oil certification standards.

In an open letter addressed to RSPO Secretary General Darrel Webber on June 1, investors and 16 other consumer goods giants such as Procter and Gamble (P&G) and Starbucks called on RSPO to ensure that by 2016, its principles and criteria certification were changed to include measures to conserve forests.

Indonesia forest fires palm oil plantations

Suggestions by the letter’s authors included requirements on the conservation of areas considered as ‘High Carbon Stock,’ peatland protection, reporting in greenhouse gas emission, and ensuring that palm oil came from known sources.

RSPO, the trade association for the $44 billion a year palm oil industry, should raise its standards for company assessments on human rights standards and the conservation value of land so that they are rigorous and objective.

RSPO administers a global sustainability certification for palm oil growers who comply with their standards on socially and environmentally responsible practices. A set of eight principles – including a commitment to transparency, conservation of natural resources, and legal compliance – and numerous other requirements constitute the ‘RSPO Standard’ for certification.

To date, RSPO has certified 12.65 million tons of palm oil – about 20 percent of the total global supply. More than 90 percent of certified palm oil originates from Malaysia and Indonesia, with Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and Colombia accounting for the remainder.

The certification guidelines were first introduced in 2007. They have been reviewed once from 2012 to 2013, and are due for another review in 2018. The task force carrying out these reviews comprises growers, environmental and social NGOs, and consumer goods companies such as Unilever.

deforestation and climate change

The letter’s authors noted that RSPO’s certification scheme is “uniquely positioned to support, promote, and enforce the widespread uptake of responsible and sustainable production practices across the palm oil industry.”

In its current state, the certification “does not include protections for some of the most critical externalities of palm oil production” such as the conversion of forest and peatlands, the letter added. (In fact, the RSPO scheme allows its members to trash ecosystems and biodiversity, while washing its hands with the purchase of green certificates. It’s like confession for environmental crimes. Say a few hail Mary’s and plants a few trees in Costa Rica. Call it even.)

sustainable palm oil deforestation

Peatlands are wetlands that must be drained before cultivation. This process not only results in significant carbon emissions as peat dries and decomposes, it also increases the risk of forest fires and results in the land sinking, and eventually flooding, as it dries out.

Waiting till 2018 to plug these gaps “would be inconsistent with the imperatives of addressing deforestation, peatland conversion, and human rights violations swiftly and efficiently,” said the letter’s authors. They urgedRSPO to bring the timeline forward to 2016.

Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate at Green Century Capital Management – one of the firms that organized the letter, along with the New York State Common Retirement Fund, said that companies and investors increasingly recognize that environmental degradation and conflict with local communities pose real risks to shareholder value. (Killing endangered species, including orangutans and tigers isn’t acceptable, either. Wildlife are not welcome on palm plantations. They are killed for returning to their former homes.)

“We are calling on RSPO to provide the assurance that strong protections are being upheld throughout palm oil supply chains,” she said. “Companies and investors increasingly recognize that widespread forest clearance degrades the environment and drives conflicts with local communities in ways that pose real risks to shareholder value.”

orangutan conservation

RSPO acknowledged the letter as an encouraging sign of a proactive push from the business community on making sustainable palm oil the norm. Stefano Savi, acting communication director, RSPO, said that the multi-stakeholder nature of RSPO meant that “at times, compromises are necessary to move forward and ensure buy-in of all stakeholder groups represented within the RSPO.”

Savi promised that RSPO was “taking all constructive comments on board,” and expressed confidence that a market transformation towards sustainable palm oil would be possible.

Environmental groups welcomed the investors’ letter too, saying it reinforced a message they had been trying to send to RSPO for a long time. Marcus Colchester, senior policy advisor of UK environmental group Forest People’s Programme told Eco-Business that as one of the members of the task force “profoundly disappointed by the way Indonesian and Malaysian growers blocked RSPO from adopting higher standards during the 2012-2013 revision process. None of these standards and declarations of intent mean anything if we continue to see forests despoiled, people shunted aside and lands taken without communities’ consent by aggressive planters,” he said.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Agriculture Subsidies Driving Deforestation

Governments Undermining Economics Of Forest Conservation

By Allie Goldstein, Ecosystem Marketplace

The race against deforestation is being won or lost hectare by hectare in the tropical rainforest countries that also provide the majority of the world’s agricultural commodities. But subsidies for commodities that drive deforestation may be undermining the efficacy of financial incentives for conserving forests and their carbon content, according to a new working paper by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a United Kingdom-based think tank.

deforestation and climate change

Agricultural subsidies worth at least $486 billion in 2012 dwarf the $8.7 billion total that developed countries have committed towards Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of forests (REDD+) since 2006, the report finds. However, financial incentives for avoiding deforestation would be much more effective if countries address the heavyweights on the other side of the scale, the researchers, Will McFarland, Shelagh Whitley and Gabrielle Kissinger, argue.

“Instead of raising the cost of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions or penalizing activities linked to forest loss and degradation, the balance of government support is in the form of subsidies to the production and consumption of the key commodities that are driving forest loss,” they write.

Alongside population growth and rising incomes, global appetites for deforestation-driving commodities – namely beef, soy, palm oil, and timber – is set to expand over the next few decades, according to research by Forest Trends, Ecosystem Marketplace’s publisher. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of deforestation in tropical countries.

The economic signals for clearing forests to make way for agricultural commodities are strong. Brazil is the world’s largest beef producer, with exports contributing $7 billion to the economy – 3 percent of total export income. Soy covers more than a third of Brazil’s arable land and exports to China, the European Union, and elsewhere earned $26.2 billion in 2010. In Indonesia, palm oil covers a fifth of agricultural land and exports reached $17.6 billion in 2012, with timber contributing another $10 billion.

tropical forest destruction and commodities

As the top two deforesters in the world by land area cleared annually, Brazil and Indonesia are ground zero for figuring out how REDD+ financing can work with existing policies. Deforestation currently accounts for up to a fifth of global GHG emissions and preventing further deforestation is one of the most effective levers to pull to mitigate climate change in the short term, according the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Governments have various motivations for putting subsidies in place, the ODI study finds. Subsidies may aim to ensure food security, create energy security by encouraging homegrown biofuel production, or serve as temporary buffers against commodity price shocks. But once in place, subsidies are difficult to remove – even if they have outlived their original purpose. Interest groups that benefit from subsidies lobby for their persistence, and governments often keep subsidies in place to garner political support, the researchers find.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Subsidies may accelerate environmental degradation in various ways, the ODI paper argues. They may draw more investment to industries such as beef and palm oil than the market would otherwise support. They may lower the cost of consumption of agricultural products, leading to overconsumption. They may remove incentives for natural resources industries to operate efficiently. And, if commodities are sold below market price, they may deprive domestic governments of tax revenue that could otherwise be invested in enforcing conservation regulations.

The working paper identifies eight beef and 16 soy subsidies in Brazil and 19 soy and 10 timber subsidies in Indonesia.

Brazilian cattle farmers have access to loans worth an estimated $218 million per year, and the below-market interest rates are credited with significantly reducing costs for producers. Brazilian soy growers have benefitted from about $540 million annual investment in roads, railways, and ports that help them get their product to market.

In Indonesia, developers benefit from about $800 million in annual concessional loans to develop commercial plantations for pulp and paper, with a government goal of establishing plantations across nine million hectares by 2016. Subsidies for smallholders palm producers led to the proliferation of palm oil plantations over an additional two million hectares between 2000 and 2009. A domestic mandate to produce fuel with at least 7.5% biofuel content is also encouraging palm expansion.

Overall, “levels of REDD+ finance stand in stark contrast to domestic subsidies, with average annual domestic agriculture subsidies in Brazil and Indonesia exceeding REDD+ finance by factors of 70 and 164 times, respectively,” the ODI paper finds.

REDD+ financing could be used in part to reform subsidies to key commodities in a way that avoids further forest loss, the ODI paper suggests. In fact, the researchers identify examples of subsidy reforms that have already addressed the drivers of deforestation. The most successful example, according to the paper, is Brazil’s reform of its rural credit system in 2008 to require compliance with legal and environmental requirements. This resulted in an estimated $1.4 billion not loaned to out-of-compliance farmers between 2008 and 2011. The majority of this finance would have gone to supporting illegal beef production, leading to an estimated 15% increase in the rate of forest loss during those years.

There are also opportunities for subsidies to work harder in forests’ favor, according to ODI, particularly when it comes to  intensification, or producing the same yields on less land area and with fewer inputs. Indonesia’s current palm oil yields of 3.8 tons per hectare fall below Malaysia’s yields of 4.6 tons per hectare. Smallholders in particular lag behind the productivity of private or government-owned plantations, indicating that with technology and financial support, smallholders could increase output without expanding plantations into the forest.

The ODI paper argues that these opportunities to shift the economic incentives around agriculture and forests should be an essential part of REDD+ process, both by phasing out or reforming subsidies that encourage deforestation and by designing any new incentives for REDD+ so that they complement other domestic efforts to shape private investment.

“There is current momentum on subsidy reform,” the authors write, citing countries’ emerging climate plans under the UNFCCC as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals being developed for post-2015 as potential opportunities to rejigger agricultural subsidies to align with low-carbon development objectives.

Another key opportunity comes with the pending disbursement of the $10.2 billion in developed country pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) established under the UNFCCC to support emissions reductions projects in developing nations. Norway, a major donor country, sees the GCF as an important channel for distributing REDD+ finance.

Thus far, finance for REDD+ “readiness,” or activities that will prepare countries to receive payments on the condition of successfully reducing deforestation, have not focused on changing subsidies connected to deforestation. However, this doesn’t have to be the case, the ODI paper argues.

“REDD+ finance could be used as a resource to support transparency, and as a lever to encourage subsidy reform,” the authors write.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information