November 9, 2007 (Telegraph.co.uk) – Big international companies are fuelling the wholesale destruction of critically important rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia in their search for cheap palm oil, a hard-hitting report claims.
Vast swathes of pristine forest are disappearing in a slash-and-burn policy creating palm oil plantations to feed the demand of multi-nationals who accept no responsibility for the resulting degradation, according to Greenpeace.
Aerial shot of deforestation in Riau province, Sumatra
It says unless steps are taken to halt the destruction, emissions from the plundered areas may trigger a ‘climate bomb’.
Greenpeace investigations centred on the tiny Indonesian province of Riau on the island of Sumatra which contains 25 per cent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations. Its peat swamps and forests are among the world’s most concentrated carbon stores.
They contain an estimated 14.6bn tonnes of carbon and their destruction would release the equivalent of total global greenhouse gas emissions for a year.
Greenpeace claims the burning of Indonesia’s peatlands and forests releases 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases annually – equal to four per cent of the global total – even though it occupies 0.1 per cent of the land on Earth.
The report alleges international companies including Unilever, Nestle and Procter and Gamble – who produce global brands such as Flora margarine, Kit-Kat, and Pringles – are buying palm oil which encourages producers responsible for the large scale and illegal clearance of land in flagrant violation of Indonesian Presidential decree and forestry regulations.
Greenpeace holds the companies responsible for the expansion of the palm oil industry at the expense of Indonesia’s peatlands.
It accuses them of using the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) which was set up by companies and producers to regulate the industry, as a cover for the deforestation that was taking place.
“This investigation shows that a handful of international corporations are ultimately responsible for the slashing and burning of Indonesia’s peatland forests for food, fuel and laundry detergent. Some of the best known brands in the world are literally cooking the climate,” said Emmy Hafild, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Launching the report, Greenpeace UK’s John Sauven said: “These are extraordinarily important areas for the storing of carbon and if they go up in smoke we can say goodbye to the climate.”
He criticised RSPO for being a “get-out- of-jail-free card”, allowing the companies in it to avoid cleaning up the industry.
Pat Venditti, head of Forest Campaign, said: ” Every time you spread Flora or take a bite out of a Kit-Kat you are also taking a bit out of the forest and the climate.
He added: “Trashing rainforests to grow palm oil for biofuels is nothing short of climate vandalism.
“Without safeguards to stop palm oil making its way into our fuel tanks, our governments are driving rainforest destruction and increasing carbon emissions in the name of saving the climate.”
The report said Indonesia is a critical example of why CO2 emissions from deforestation and land-use change needs to be dealt with at international level, by governments and corporations.
Indonesia holds the global record for greenhouse gas emissions through deforestation, putting it third behind the USA and China in terms of total man-made GHG emissions.
During the last 50 years, over 74 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests have been destroyed – logged, burned, degraded, pulped -and its products shipped round the planet.
Because it is a developing country Indonesia is not a signatory to the Kyoto climate treaty and is not required to set a target to reduce its emissions. And because there are currently no incentives to prevent rainforest destruction, the expansion of palm oil into carbon-rich landscapes such as peatlands and rainforests is expanding for short-term economic gains which made no ecological sense.
All the companies named in the report denied Greenpeace’s allegations.
Nestlé said it had been committed to sourcing palm oil in an environmentally and socially responsible way for many years.
“The Greenpeace report exaggerates Nestlé’s role, as the Company uses a negligible proportion of world production in a variety of products, including KitKat,” the company said in a statement.
“Nestlé does not use crude palm oil but rather buys products derived from palm oil from reputable manufacturers. About 95 per cent of this palm oil and palm kernel oil comes from suppliers who are members of the RSPO and who therefore have a declared a commitment to sustainable sourcing.”
Procter and Gamble said it too was committed to sustainable palm oil.
” We share our sustainability guidelines with our suppliers. We encourage our suppliers to follow sustainable practices and we support various initiatives for the sustainable production and use of palm products, such as the RSPO through our joint venture partner in Malaysia,” it said.
The report calls for a halt to tropical deforestation and an end to peatland fires and conversion, as well as rehabilitation of degraded areas and building a funding mechanism into the post-Kyoto agreement to prevent forest loss.