Indonesia: No more rainforest clearing for palm oil
June 5, 2007
"Expansion of palm oil plantations will not be allowed to sacrifice natural forests," Witoelar said in an interview yesterday. "They will be planted in lots that are already empty. There are plenty of these, 18 million hectares of them."
While Witoelar's remarks may seem encouraging to green groups, the Indonesian government has a poor track record of enforcing its regulations at the local level. District and regional governments often ignore federal government pronouncements while corruption can undermine law enforcement efforts.
Indonesia is expected to surpass Malaysia as the world largest producer of palm oil this year. The government hopes to add 7 million hectares of plantations by 2011.
Environmentalists say oil palm plantations are destroying virgin rainforest and producing large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases. A study by Wetlands International found that the country is the third largest emitter of climate warming gases, about 85 percent of which result from deforestation and land use change, especially peatlands degradation. Indonesia's carbon dioxide emissions are rising at 4 percent annually, faster than India and China, according to a World Bank report released today. The report warned that Indonesia is at particular risk from the effects of global warming.
"Indonesia stands to experience significant losses with climate change," stated the report. "Being an archipelago, Indonesia is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Prolonged droughts, increased frequency in extreme weather events, and heavy rainfall leading to big floods, are a few examples of the impacts of climate change... Indonesia's rich biodiversity is also at risk. In turn, this may lead to harmful effects on agriculture, fishery, and forestry, resulting in threats to food security and livelihoods."
Palm oil in Indonesia
Chart showing annual palm oil production by Malaysia and Indonesia from 1964-2006. Click to enlarge.
Palm oil is derived from the plant's fruit, which grow in clusters that may weigh 40-50 kilograms. A hundred kilograms of oil seeds typically produce 20 kilograms of oil, while a single hectare of oil palm may yield 5,000 kilograms of crude oil, or nearly 6,000 liters of crude oil that can be used in biodiesel production. At $400 per metric ton, or about $54 per barrel, palm oil is competitive with conventional oil. In the future, palm oil prices are expected to fall further as more oil palm comes under cultivation.
(5/15/2007) The booming market for palm oil is driving record production but fueling rising concerns over the environmental impact of the supposedly "green" bioenergy source. The two leading producers of palm oil, Malaysia and Indonesia, have rapidly expanded palm oil production in recent years, often at the expense of biodiverse rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands that store billions of tons of greenhouse gases. Environmentalists say that due to these factors, burning of palm oil can at times be more damaging the global climate than the use of fossil fuels.
(4/29/2007) The Netherlands has proposed a system to reduce the environmental impact of biofuels production. The country becomes the first in the world to establish such guidelines. Environmentalists have expressed increasing concern for the establishment of energy crops in biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems like the peatlands of Indonesia and the Amazon rainforest. They say that conversion of these forests for oil palm and soybeans is threatening endangered species and worsening global warming. Further, they warn, demand for such biomass energy products is driving up prices for food crops.
(4/27/2007) In a report scheduled to be released today, the Dutch government will outline criteria for growing biofuels in a more sustainable manner. The guidelines will be closely watched by the rest of Europe, which is currently struggling with the environmental pros and cons of large-scale energy crop production, especially in ecologically-sensitive areas like the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests.
(4/4/2007) As traditionally practiced in southeast Asia, oil palm cultivation is responsible for widespread deforestation that reduces biodiversity, degrades important ecological services, worsens climate change, and traps workers in inequitable conditions sometimes analogous to slavery. This doesn't have to be the case. Following examples set forth by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and firms like Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil producer, oil palm can be cultivated in a manner that helps mitigate climate change, preserves biodiversity, and brings economic opportunities to desperately poor rural populations.
(4/3/2007) The Associated Press (AP) recently quoted Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, as saying palm oil is a failure as a biofuel. This would be a misleading statement and one that doesn't help efforts to devise a workable solution to the multiplicity of issues surrounding the use of palm oil.
(2/22/2007) Borneo, the third largest island in the world, was once covered with dense rainforests. With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored. Headhunters ruled the remote parts of the island until a century ago. In the 1980s and 1990s Borneo underwent a remarkable transition. Its forests were leveled at a rate unparallel in human history. Borneo's rainforests went to industrialized countries like Japan and the United States in the form of garden furniture, paper pulp and chopsticks. Initially most of the timber was taken from the Malaysian part of the island in the northern states of Sabah and Sarawak. Later forests in the southern part of Borneo, an area belonging to Indonesia and known as Kalimantan, became the primary source for tropical timber. Today the forests of Borneo are but a shadow of those of legend and those that remain are highly threatened by the emerging biofuels market, specifically, oil palm.