Indonesia has recently challenged the bad press which palm oil has received, even though the expansion of oil plantations has led to unprecedented levels of forest fires.
At 11am on the 2nd of November in Paris, the Indonesian Ambassador to France added fuel to the fire by arguing that Indonesian palm oil is produced using sustainable methods. The NGOs Envol Vert, Coeur de Forêt (Forest Heart) and Planet Amazon were horrified to see that the Indonesian government would speak up for palm oil in Paris – just weeks before the city is to host the COP 21 summit – when the last few months alone have seen the burning of countless forest regions in Indonesia in order to make room for palm oil plantations, a practice which has released a cloud of toxic fumes over the whole of South-East Asia. We are now asking all of those involved to make an immediate commitment to a Zero Deforestation initiative, in a bid to put a stop to this ecological and climactic disaster!
For almost four months, 1.7 million hectares of forest land in the Indonesian provinces of Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra (Sumatra Island), as well as central and Western Kalimantan (Borneo Island), have been burned to the ground. The El Niño effect has caused a prolonged drought, making it even easier for palm oil cultivators to set fire to natural forest land and convert it to plantation zones – at almost no expense to their businesses. These fires represent an ecological disaster and a catastrophe for the climate on a global scale, especially because they produce clouds of toxic fumes stretching as far as Thailand or the Philippines, and which have already led to respiratory infections in 500,000 people, the closure of schools and constant air traffic complications. The most commonly burnt areas are peat bogs and damp woodland areas, which release vast quantities of noxious greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. By September, the levels of greenhouse gasses released by these forest fires will overtake those produced by the economic activity of the whole of the USA, and the annual levels of greenhouse gasses are far higher than those produced by France alone. Yet While these fires continue to burn, the government has done nothing to stop them: in fact this year the fires have become markedly more widespread. At the end of October, the surface area of forest area lost is already 2.5 times higher than the FAO predictions for the annual loss of forest area for the 2010-2015 period.
As a representative for the French NGO Envol Vert explained: ‘the toxic nature of these fumes makes the air impossible to breathe safely, and yet these fires are continuing. The planet’s lungs are going up in smoke, and our own lungs are in pretty bad shape too!’. While the finger may have principally been pointed at small cultivators involved in modest community operations, the more powerful actors of not only palm oil industry, but also the paper paste and rubber industries, are lurking in the background. By taking what they need off small farmers without offering them proper support, and by snapping up ever more land, they are pushing deforestation to eat ever further into our primary forests’.
On the 2nd of November – barely a month before the start of the COP21 Summit in Paris – the Indonesian Ambassador to France invited all involved parties, including French consumers of palm oil, to promote the sustainable production of palm oil in Indonesia. Given that the Indonesian representatives also took the opportunity to condemn the Zero Deforestation commitments of more ecologically responsible businesses, this invitation was not well received. In order to put a stop to this ecological disaster as soon as possible, a collective of NGOs – Envol Vert, Coeur de Forêt and Planète Amazone – have proposed a cross-organisation Zero Deforestation initiative, to be applied with immediate effect:
The Indonesian government must:
– Offer substantial support to small producers in exchange for a ban on all production involving forest burning, so that these producers can increase their production levels in terms of actual yield levels rather than in terms of increasing the size of their plantations;
– Stop granting permits to exploit areas in peat-bog and primary forest zones;
– Keep a close watch on illegal forest fires, both through a system of satellite camera surveillance, and by establishing a dedicated team of properly co-ordinated and equipped agents working on the ground to ensure that the law is enforced. This is vital if Indonesia is to respect any commitments it makes to reduce emissions.
Businesses – across the board, but especially those linked to the palm oil industry – must:
– Agree to commit to Zero Deforestation initiatives, which will apply to both them and all those working in their supply chain, from whom they will demand complete transparency as regards their means of sourcing and producing goods.
– Be completely transparent as regards their own methods of production, whilst ensuring that their commitments are met, and, where they have any influence over the work carried out on the ground, to work with the small and independent producers to promote the good practices which they wish to see along the whole chain of supply, offering the adequate information and support where needed.
Europe, as the largest consumer of the products in question, must:
– Ensure that all the products it imports have not been harvested through illegal deforestation, nor forest fires. This policy has already been put in place in the wood and paper paste industries, and should be rolled out during the COP21 to apply to all high-risk raw materials.
Consumers, who will be badly effected by the major consequences of deforestation, must:
– Be informed, through the forest footprint tool, as to how they can make responsible and ethical choices about the products they buy.
Representatives of this NGO partnership will be present at the Indonesian embassy to ensure that, in the run-up to the COP 21, precise measures are implemented to bring an end to this ecological disaster.
Read our press release
The sigantories of the release are:
Coeur de forêt : www.coeurdeforet.com
Planète Amazone : http://raoni.com/planete-amazone.php
Envol vert : www.envol-vert.org
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