Europe Losing Appetite For Palm Oil

EU Targeting Biofuel Applications

The latest European Union plan to ban palm oil has been defeated, but the anti-palm oil forces in Europe have only just begun.

The different lawmaking arms of the EU — the European Commission, Parliament and the Council — recently reached a compromise on the bloc’s revised renewable energy regulations, known as the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). Like all EU compromises, it is messy, but with one element of certainty: the proposed ban on palm biofuels has been rejected.

RED is of significance to Indonesia. The regulation effectively subsidizes renewable fuels for transport, including Indonesian palm oil, and has increased demand for Indonesian exports in recent years.

palm oil plantation deforestation
This led to palm oil taking market share from less competitive EU oilseeds, such as rapeseed.  The most recent evidence of this is claims of dumping made by European biofuel producers against Indonesia, which was rejected at the World Trade Organization.

There is furious lobbying around the RED revisions. European farmer and Green groups wanted palm oil banned. This was supported by members of the EU Parliament and several EU governments.

The European Commission knew a ban was unworkable from a trade policy perspective: it opposed the plan. Some EU member states’ governments, pursuing ongoing trade relations with Indonesia and Malaysia, also opposed the ban.

The final compromise juggles the interests of European farmers, the EU’s trade interests, and a general desire to phase out food/feed-based biofuels.

Green parliamentarians hailed it as a victory, stating palm oil was being “phased out” by 2030. This has been widely reported in the media: it is not accurate.

The RED text contains no specific phase-out of palm oil. Palm oil is not even mentioned. The proposed ban on all palm oil biofuels from 2021 has disappeared. Forbes reported that the EU Parliament “surrendered” in the negotiations and backed away from banning palm oil.

deforestation and global warming
Instead, the text says that in 2019 the commission will finalize a methodology to determine which biofuels — and their production processes — can be considered “high risk” in terms of greenhouse gas savings. This will incorporate both indirect land-use change (ILUC) and high carbon stock (HCS).

On paper, all crops — European crops included — will be subject to the same measures.

Any “high-risk” biofuels — imported or European — will have their use frozen at 2019 levels, and the commission will then recommend a phase-out strategy for high-risk biofuels, commencing in 2024 and ending in 2030.

But “high risk” is yet to be determined. The ‘high carbon stock’ criteria may be carried over from the original RED. Schemes such as RSPO, RED and ISCC already comply if that is the case.

deforestation palm oil orangutans
ILUC is the true wildcard here. The ILUC debate has been going on for nearly a decade. The concept has been criticized repeatedly for its lack of a robust methodology.

But it’s not just oil palm growers that dislike ILUC. European farmers — including offshoots of Deutscher Bauernverband (German Farmers’ Association) — have been critical of ILUC. This is because ILUC is one of the main arguments used by the Greens against feed- and food-based biofuels, whether in the EU or elsewhere.

After the European summer, the commission will begin work on defining what “high risk” biofuel feedstock means for purposes of the biofuel policy.

Additionally, Europe is moving to regulate palm oil used for foodstuffs.  As a first step, the European Parliament is considering a motion calling for controls on agricultural imports from developing countries.

Palm oil has been singled out despite being well behind other commodities — such as beef, soybean and maize — in terms of its deforestation footprint. This is to be expected from the European Parliament; a lopsided vote against palm oil is almost certain.

Following that, the EU will finalize the “EU Action Plan” on deforestation. This action plan will seek to introduce a new regulation aimed at curbing palm oil imports. Ideas being floated include a trade agreement and licensing system for palm oil — similar to the VPA-FLEGT model currently used for Indonesian timber product exports. Indonesian officials and business groups have been quick to push the idea of using Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification as the basis of such an agreement.

These types of policies often serve a dual purpose. They protect the domestic industry with a regulatory barrier, and fall in line with the EU’s euro-centric notion of sustainable development.

For nearly a decade, palm oil has been a target for European agriculture, lawmakers and non-government organizations. There is nothing about the revised RED policy that changes this, even though the ban was defeated. Those in the industry need to be ready for the policy battles to continue.

The EU and Palm Oil

deforestation and climate change

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. It 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

Malaysia, Indonesia Denounce Ban On Palm Oil In Biofuels

Short-Term Gains Driving Biodiversity Into History

Found in everything from shampoo to donuts, palm oil is now the most common vegetable oil in the world—and also one of the world’s leading deforestation drivers. It’s also being used to fuel our automobiles. The controversial product has given new meaning to the old campaign sloga, “put a tiger in your tank.” In fact, the palm oil industry is driving the highly endangered Sumatran tiger and other species towards extinction.

In defense of our planet’s vanishing biodiversity, European lawmakers approved draft measures last Wednesday to reform the power market there and reduce energy consumption, with the plan including a ban on the use of palm oil in motor fuels starting in 2021.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Malaysia, the world’s second-largest palm producer, said on Monday it would work with other producing countries to voice “strong concerns” to the World Trade Organization, following the European Union’s move to back a ban on using palm oil to make biofuels. Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, joined the outcry against the ban, which is aimed at preserving massive tracts of tropical rainforests and countless endangered species that rely on them for habitat. The palm oil industry alone has caused massive slash and burning of millions of acres of rainforests to create palm oil plantations at the expense of biodiversity and the future of our planet.

Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis, which thrives in humid climates. Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce nearly 90 percent of the world’s palm oil, called the move discriminatory and said there should be fair treatment for all vegetable oils.

A large portion of European palm oil imports is used to make biofuels, giving the industry’s top two producers cause for concern as they fear overall demand will fall. Palm oil exports are a key source of revenue for Malaysia and Indonesia. The European Union is their second-biggest market after India.

deforestation climate change

Malaysia’s trade minister called the move a “regressive step which will fuel further uncertainty surrounding global trade,” according to a statement on Monday evening.

“Malaysia will intensify collaboration with other palm oil producing countries to consider more concerted efforts to voice our strong concern before the various committees under the WTO,” said Mustapa Mohamed, minister of international trade and industry, in the statement, adding that the ministry would raise the issue with two committees in March and April.

One huge source of global warming emissions associated with palm oil is the draining and burning of the carbon-rich swamps known as peatlands. Peatlands can hold up to 18 to 28 times as much carbon as the forests above them; when they are drained and burned, both carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere—and unless the water table is restored, peatlands continue to decay and release global warming emissions for decades.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the burning of peatlands releases a dangerous haze into the air, resulting in severe health impacts and significant economic losses. Each year, more than 100,000 deaths in Southeast Asia can be attributed to particulate matter exposure from landscape fires, many of which are peat fires.

Beyond its global warming and human health impacts, palm oil production also takes a toll on biodiversity and human rights. Only about 15 percent of native animal species can survive the transition from primary forest to plantation. Among the species vulnerable to palm oil expansion are orangutans, tigers, rhinoceros, and elephants. Furthermore, palm oil growers have also been accused of using forced labor, seizing land from local populations, and other human rights abuses.

palm oil and orangutans

The impacts of palm oil production have begun to draw a response from both governments and the private sector in recent years.

There has been significant movement from Southeast Asian governments to address palm oil impacts, though there is still much to be done. In 2010, Indonesia established a moratorium on new concessions for oil palm, timber and logging operations on primary forests and peatlands. In addition, Indonesia has responded to worsening haze conditions by calling for a halt to clearance and drainage of peatlands, and for the restoration of those already drained. Malaysia has also begun to act to protect some of its forests, though its protections thus far have not been as strong as Indonesia’s.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

On the private-sector side, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)was formed to bring oil producers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders together to improve the sustainability of palm oil production. However, current RSPO standards fall short in important respects. For instance, while primary forests are protected under RSPO regulations, secondary, disturbed, or regenerating forests are left unprotected. Peatlands are also given limited protection under RSPO guidelines. So “RSPO-certified” does not necessarily mean “deforestation-free.”

PR firm 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

Bunge Jumping Away From Deforestation, Illegal Palm Oil?

Smoke, Mirrors Cloud Progress On Biodiversity, Climate Change

Agribusiness and food production giant Bunge announced a commitment to source deforestation and peat-free palm oil today. The only question is will they take action before it’s too late.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is impressed with Bunge’s willingness to ensure the palm oil it sources protects forests and peatlands, but adds that the fluffy commitment is missing some key elements, including a timetable to stop deforestation.

deforestation and climate change

“Today’s commitment from Bunge could have huge implications for peatlands,” said Lael Goodman, an analyst with UCS’s Tropical Forest & Climate Initiative. “Many companies overlook peatlands’ importance. Since these areas are so carbon rich, it’s essential that companies recognize palm oil should not be grown on peatlands and that management policies for existing plantations on peatlands must be different—and Bunge is leading the charge in this regard.”

Bunge’s commitment is particularly important because they source much of their palm oil from Sarawak, Malaysia, a peat-rich area. Peatlands are wetland areas of decayed vegetation that store significant amounts of carbon. Growing oil palm on peat soil releases carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Currently, deforestation is responsible for at least ten percent of all global warming emissions. Yet in Sarawak, the potential for climatic damage is dire. According to Goodman, the amount of carbon stored in Malaysian peat soils is equivalent to the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2008-2012.

palm oil plantation deforestation

The Bunge commitment includes not only protections for all peatlands, but also requires best practices for managing these lands, reporting annually and ensuring land is not burned. Goodman added that, in the past, burning peatlands to prepare them for planting has resulted in conflagrations that can burn continuously for months.

“Our hope is that Bunge’s leadership will have real implications limiting palm oil plantation expansion onto peatlands in Malaysia,” said Goodman.

The company’s leadership on peat does not make up for the holes in their policy. UCS’s major concerns are that Bunge’s commitment does not set deadlines for implementation, and while it rightly prioritizes tracing palm oil from high risk areas, it does not require that all palm oil be eventually traced back to the original plantation.

“The threats to tropical forests and peatlands are occurring now and these irreplaceable lands cannot wait,” said Goodman. “We need to see timelines in place to stop all peatland destruction and deforestation right now. The short-term goal is pushing companies to transition to palm oil that does not cause deforestation. But the long-term goal is implementing this commitment. And it’s only through an established timetable that we can be sure companies get serious about reducing threats to forests and peatlands.”


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

Palm oil deforestation and climate change.

Orphaned Orangutans Go To Survival School

Orangutans Scarred For Life

Meet the star students of orangutan school — the unique rehab center where orphaned apes are taught how to climb trees and survive in the wild without their mom and dad. Having had a rough start in life these adorable orangutans are attending special classes at a school in West Kalimantan in Borneo, Indonesia, where they can learn the skills they need to survive on their own in the wild.

orphan orangutans and deforestation

The cuddly creatures have all experienced a great deal of heartache in their short lives after being abandoned, mistreated, kept in cages and starved. Some have even witnessed their mothers being slaughtered leaving them scared and alone as tiny babies. The promising pupils need hours of dedicated coaching at Baby School before hopefully graduating to Forest School and being released back into the jungle to fend for themselves.

A documentary on Nat Geo WILD AT 8pm on Monday, June 23, follows the progress of several pupils as they master new skills throughout the project, which is run by wildlife charity, International Animal Rescue (IAR). The program, called “Orangutan Rescue: Back to the Wild,” sees the inquisitive apes learning what a forest is and how to climb trees in Baby School and then being taught how to find food and build nests to sleep safely at night in Forest School.

Pupils include Noel, Gunung, Tribune, Onyo, Marie and best friends Rocky and Rickina, who have been inseparable since their arrival. Little Rickina is still scarred from a horrific machete attack which killed her mother and left her orphaned as a tiny baby.   Rocky had been kept in a cage and starved by his owner, he lost most of his hair after being severely malnourished and the traumatized youngster still needs constant encouragement to eat and drink. The program also features Santi, a playful young female who was being kept as a pet in a cage, she has already graduated from Baby School and is now honing her skills in Forest School.   The students, who arrive at school each day in a bright red wheelbarrow, are guided by a dedicated team of vets, scientists and volunteers. The team is led by Karmele Llano-Sanchez, director of the center.

“When the forest is destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, it is easier for hunters to find and shoot orangutans,” she said. “These hunters kill the mother and other members of a family and take the babies to sell them into the pet trade. “People who buy orangutans to keep them as pets are as culpable as those who pull the trigger on the gun.”

orangutan conservation

Alan Knight, IAR Chief Executive, said, “The future of the orangutan in Borneo hangs in the balance. Destruction of the rainforest to make way for oil palm plantations and other agriculture is leaving orangutans and other native wildlife without food and shelter. Our team in Indonesia is working round the clock to rescue orangutans being kept illegally as pets or left stranded when their habitat is destroyed. The Nat Geo documentary is a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of orangutans in Borneo and show viewers the wonderful work our team is doing to save them. It is a captivating film and I feel sure that viewers will be enthralled by the orangutan characters who star in it and will be moved to support the work we are doing to help them.”

Read more:

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

Forest Conservation Good For Business

Sustainable Palm Oil Ignores Biodiversity

Editor’s Note: The term sustainable palm oil is misleading consumers as it relates to biodiversity and endangered species. I am looking for a clear and concise statement that tells me that companies that purchase such products aren’t promoting wildlife extinction through deforestation. The sole barometer at this point should be orangutans, tigers and elephants on Sumatra, for example. How can sustainable palm oil come from a plantation that sits on land that once was pristine jungle habitat for endangered species? Convince me that there are no loopholes and schemes at work to prevent this from happening.

Secondly, let’s assume that I’m wrong and let’s give credit where credit is due. Unilever has announced that it is sourcing all palm oil from sustainable sources ahead of schedule. They are obviously paying attention to the issue of illegal deforestation and that’s a start. They are big enough and influential enough to be a leader that can promote change. The key is that this change happen before the jungles, orangutans, tigers and elephants are extinct. A sustainability champion can’t take its eye off of the web of life. 

Finally, we issue a challenge to Unilever and its suppliers. We have an urban forestry model that can truly be a sustainable palm oil model. It can accomplish many objectives around the world. Let’s talk. 

palm oil plantation deforestation

Business is the solution to environmental progress, not its enemy, said the head of one of the world’s largest corporations. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, accepted the 2013 Commitment to Development “Ideas in Action” Award from the Center for Global Development last night. Unilever was recognized for its work in reducing deforestation through its sustainable sourcing of palm oil and pulp and paper products.

“First and foremost I am a businessman; I cannot deny that,” said Polman. Like most corporate leaders, he excels in tracking progress and measuring success, important tools for both building a successful company and rooting out the cause of environmental degradation. “Otherwise, you don’t move things forward, and I think that’s one of the things that businesses are good about,” he added.

Owner of such brands as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Unilever has successfully sourced 100 percent of its palm oil from certified sustainable sources (which means what?), three years ahead of schedule, according to the company’s 2012 annual report. Unilever alone purchases about 3 percent of the total global palm oil output. It has set a goal to trace 100 percent of its palm oil back to the plantation on which it was grown by 2020.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Polman has exhibited leadership on the issue not just through Unilever, but through his work in the Consumer Goods Forum and the Tropical Forest Alliance, industry groups whose members have committed to sustainable sourcing of materials. Capitalism, said Polman, has been “an enormous positive force in this world.”

But the financial crash of 2008 also showed the limitations of capitalism to help society. Enormous debt, aggravated by overconsumption, had left a large part of the world’s population behind and disregarded the “natural capital,” or the value of ecosystems.

The company pulls in about $67 billion in revenue annually. It is this size and scale that have allowed the company to influence deforestation policy.

“You take Unilever: We have 2 billion consumers using us every day; we are in seven out of 10 households globally,” he said. “If you have that scale and reach, it’s an enormous possibility to transform markets.”

Palm oil can be found in a variety of foods, personal care products like soap, and biodiesel. The rapid expansion of palm oil, driven by rising global demand for food and fuel, has been linked to widespread deforestation in Southeast Asia, the source of about 85 percent of palm oil. About 10 percent of global carbon emissions is linked to deforestation. The death of orangutans, tigers and elephants has been caused by the industry.

palm oil kills orangutans

In the last two decades, the area of palm oil plantations has expanded nearly eight times in Indonesia alone, according to a recent Agriculture Department Foreign Agricultural Service report. Growers have been accused of clearing native forests, removing habitat of endangered species and violating the rights of forest dwellers.

Unilever was also a player in palm oil trader Wilmar’s recent agreement to adopt a no-deforestation policy, which prohibits its suppliers from establishing plantations on lands with large amounts of carbon — like peat soils — or lands with a high conservation value (ClimateWire, Dec. 8, 2013). Wilmar controls about 45 percent of the palm oil market.

“The Wilmar commitment sets a new global standard for industry and creates new constituencies in forest countries among the private sector for improved land-use policies and improved law enforcement,” said Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in forest policy. “Mr. Polman’s actions give us hope that market transformation can be achieved and that we can stop tropical deforestation.”

Polman organized a global outreach program with businesses that, together, make up 10 percent of global gross domestic product.

deforestation and climate change

“Among CEOs, Polman is seen as the go-to guy for sustainability leadership,” said Glenn Hurowitz, a palm oil campaigner and executive director of sustainability consultant group Catapult. He “knows how to use Unilever’s purchasing power, leverage and influence to help transform the entire supply chains of some of the world’s most environmentally intensive commodities.”

Language is key in generating a response. Polman has made a habit of placing the word “illegal” in front of deforestation.

“The reason it’s illegal is that everything we do now cannot be reversed, and by calling it illegal, by the way, I get far more people to agree with me,” he said. “There’s something still in our humanity, in our values, that we don’t like to do things illegally. We should have called the whole thing ‘illegal climate change,’ and we would have solved it.”

Polman is anxious for other large palm oil traders to make similar commitments to Wilmar.

“If we can get Sime Darby or Sinar Mas or Cargill or one or two others to join, you’re at 70 percent; that’s a tipping point,” he said, naming some of the largest traders after Wilmar. “Again, if we don’t do it, our business is at stake.”


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

Can Corporations Produce Palm Oil and Protect Biodiversity

All Palm Plantations Eliminate Wildlife

Editor’s Note: The palm oil industry is responsible for massive amounts of deforestation and loss of biodiversity across the tropics around the world. As such, critical habitat for endangered species, such as tigers, elephants, orangutans and elephants have been destroyed forever. Meanwhile, the Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil and various producers have hidden their destructive practices behind the illusion and label of “Sustainable Palm Oil.” Unfortunately, the RSPO and sustainable palm oil have been greenwashing palm oil. Unfortunately, so-called sustainable palm oil does nothing to protect endangered species and their endangered habitats. Sustainable palm oil is driving orangutans, tigers and elephants into extinction.

palm oil plantation deforestation

The deforestation caused by this industry also is contributing to the rise in greenhouse gasses responsible for climate change and extreme weather events. It’s definitely time for meaningful reform in this industry. Hopefully, Unilever, Wilmar International and others will take this initiative very seriously, while reaping the rewards of meaningful reform. 

One of the world’s largest agri-businesses has pledged to end deforestation throughout its supply chain, in a move that represents a major step forward for companies seeking to source sustainable palm oil, soya beans and sugar.

Wilmar International yesterday signed a deal with consumer goods giant Unilever, which has promised that 100 percent of the palm oil used in its supply chain would by fully traceable by the end of 2014. As Wilmar controls 45 percent of the global palm oil market, supplying other household brands such as Procter and Gamble, Mondelez and Reckitt Benckiser, it has faced huge pressure from NGOs and businesses to develop more environmentally and socially sustainable practices.

deforestation and climate change

The company has already taken steps to preserve high conservation value forests and peatland on its own concessions, although campaigners have been quick to point out that deal covers just a sliver of the palm oil it trades.

A report by Greenpeace earlier this year accused Wilmar of trading with companies that deforest areas illegally, set fire to peatland and clear areas known to be used as habitats for tigers.

But the new policy aims to establish mechanisms to help Wilmar monitor activities among its subsidies and third-party suppliers, to ensure it can halt deforestation across the supply chain.

“We believe that the palm oil industry can provide a sustainable and affordable source of vegetable oil to meet rising global demand for responsible products,” said Wilmar chairman and chief executive Kuok Khoon Hong, in a statement.

palm oil and orangutans

“We can produce palm oil in a way that protects forests, clean air and local communities, all while contributing to development and prosperity in palm oil growing regions. We know from our customers and other stakeholders that there is a strong and rapidly growing demand for traceable, deforestation-free palm oil, and we intend to meet it as a core element of our growth strategy.”

Luigi Sigismondi, Unilever’s chief supply chain officer, said he was truly impressed by the commitment and urged other suppliers to follow suit.

“Unilever firmly believes that it is only through constructive dialogue and close cooperation that we can lead the transformation of the industry,” he said.

“Wilmar, as our strategic partner in palm oil, is clearly committed – with us – to accelerating the much-needed sustainable market transformation and to helping us achieve transparent, traceable and certified palm oil supply chains.”

The policies were developed with consultancy The Forest Trust (TFT), which already works with a number of agri-businesses to help them reduce the environmental impact of their operations and supply chains, such as Asia Pulp and Paper as well as consumer facing businesses like Nestle.

TFT executive director Scott Poynton said he expected the new deal to transform the palm oil industry.

“Few companies dominate their sectors the way Wilmar dominates palm oil,” he said.

“[This] announcement… dwarfs in ambition any previous joint commitment in the sector and raises the bar for responsible global agricultural production. We commend Wilmar for its strong new policy, and now is the time for transparent and verifiable implementation.”


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

Palm Oil Is The Bungle In The Jungle

Rainforest Destruction Fuels Climate Change

A baby Sumatran orangutan swings playfully on a branch at an Indonesian rescue center, a far cry from the terror he endured when his pristine rainforest home was razed to the ground. Now alarm is growing at a plan activists say will open up new swathes of virgin forest on Sumatra island for commercial exploitation and lay roads through a vital ecosystem, increasing the risk to many endangered species.

palm oil plantation deforestation

The plan, which Aceh authorities say aims to open up a small amount of forest for communities to develop, is set to be approved by Jakarta despite its moves towards extending a national moratorium on new logging permits.

Green groups say such policies illustrate how the ban can be circumvented to open up new areas for deforestation, threatening to boost Indonesia’s already high emissions of carbon dioxide.

“This plan is a huge threat to species living in the forest, especially orangutans, tigers and elephants that live in the lowland forests that will likely be cleared first,” Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme told AFP.

Environmentalists warn that some one million hectares (2.5 million acres) — around the size of Cyprus — could be opened up in Aceh province for exploitation by mining, palm oil and paper companies. Officials dispute that figure.

There are particular fears about part of the project which would lay roads through the Leuser ecosystem, an area of stunning beauty where peat swamp and dense forest surround waterfalls and mountains poking through clouds.

The area, mostly in Aceh, is home to around 5,800 of the remaining 6,600 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as well as tigers, elephants, bears and snakes including King Cobras.

deforestation and climate change

Singleton warns that cases like that of the baby ape, rescued from Leuser, would rise dramatically if the road project goes ahead, as orangutan populations need long, uninterrupted stretches of forest to survive.

Named Gokong Puntung after the Chinese monkey god, the young ape had been living in an area where several companies cleared the land despite the tough protection it was supposed to have been afforded.

The primate was left stranded and clinging to his mother in a lone tree with no others to swing to. His mother was beaten by a group of passing men, and the baby was sold to a plantation worker for $10.

He was rescued in February and taken to the centre run by Singleton’s group across the Aceh border in Sibolangit district, North Sumatra province.

palm oil and orangutans

“Genetic experts say you need 250 to 500 orangutans minimum to have a population that’s viable in the long term without too many bad inbreeding effects,” said Singleton.

“We’ve only got about six of those populations left, and every time you put a road through the middle of one, you effectively cut it in half.”

Aceh forestry department planning chief Saminuddin B. Tou insists the roads will help link remote communities to the outside world — although activists say there are few buildings in the area and the network mainly helps big companies with access.

Jakarta has signaled it will sign off on Aceh’s plan in the coming weeks, even as it is expected to extend the moratorium on new logging permits which expires on May 20 and has been in force for two years. There is also strong support in the Aceh parliament which has the final say, and officials say they hope it will pass soon.

Although it seems to fly in the face of the national moratorium, the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh’s decision to overturn its own deforestation ban which was introduced at the local level six years ago. The ban, stronger than the national measure, was brought in by the previous local administration — but it will be scrapped under the plan.

Environmentalists say it is one of the more glaring examples of how officials are using a murky web of local laws and technical explanation to push through new deforestation in defiance of the national moratorium.

“Companies and local governments have found all sorts of ways to get around the ban,” Friends of the Earth forest campaigner Zenzi Suhadi said.

However, the head of the Aceh forestry department, Husaini Syamaun, said in a statement that the plan “was not aimed at the development of mines and plantations” and did not break any laws.

The administration insists it will only free up around 200,000 hectares of new forest for exploitation. But in reality a much larger area will be opened up, activists say.

Prior to the local ban, many mining and palm oil companies were granted concessions to chop down virgin rainforest in Aceh, but they had to freeze their activities when the province’s moratorium came in.

Officials argue that the plan will simply “reactivate” these areas of forest that had been open for logging in the past, so do not include them in their calculations.

Tou also insisted most of the project was an “administrative change” as a lot of forest had in reality been cleared by local communities already. “It’s not still virgin forest, it’s already been converted by the people,” he said.


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.