UN says palm oil destroys forests, indigenous cultures in Indonesia, Malaysia
November 27, 2007
In its annual 'Human Development Report 2007/2008' [PDF] report, UNDP says that leading palm oil producers Malaysia and Indonesia have taken serious missteps in seeking to meet the European Union's ambitious targets for biofuels.
"Oil palm can be grown and harvested in environmentally sustainable and socially responsible ways, especially through small-scale agroforestry... However, largescale mono-cropping plantations in many countries do not have a good record. And much of the recent surge in palm oil production has taken place on such plantations," said the report.
Oil-palm plantations in Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Satellite image courtesy of Google Earth.
The report notes that as global cultivation of oil palm has doubled over the past decade, that forests in Malaysia and Indonesia have been rapidly converted for plantations. Much of this expansion has occurred on carbon-rich peatlands, resulting in massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Due largely to emissions from forest conversion and destruction, today Indonesia is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
UNDP reports that palm oil imports are expected to reach 3.6 million metric tons by 2020.
"The European Union has to carefully consider the implications of internal directives on energy policy for external human development prospects," stated the report.
Recent articles on palm oil
(11/19/2008) Malaysia's government will for the first time grant ownership rights of land farmed by indigenous people, reports the Associated Press, but some may see the legal change as a scheme to promote oil palm expansion.
South Korea to lease half of Madagascar's arable land for corn, oil palm production
(11/19/2008) South Korea's Daewoo has signed a 99-year lease for half of Madagascar's arable land, reports the Financial Times. The agreement covers 1.3 million hectares (3.2 million acres) — an area half the size of Belgium. Daewoo says it plans to plant corn on 1 million hectares in the arid western part of the island and 300,000 ha (740,000 acres) of oil palm on land in the tropical east, a region that is home to the bulk of Madagascar's rare rainforests. The company will produce the food for export and plans to import workers from South Africa, although a Daewoo spokesman said that the project could create up to 70,000 local jobs.
Greenpeace activists block palm oil shipment from departing Indonesia for Europe
(11/11/2008) Greenpeace activists blocked a palm oil shipment from departing Dumai, Indonesia's main palm oil export port, for Europe to protest against the ongoing destruction of Indonesia's forests.
Biodiversity of rainforests should not be compared with oil palm plantations says palm oil council chief
(11/11/2008) Scientists should compare the biodiversity oil palm plantations to other industrial monocultures, not the rainforests they replace, said Dr. Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), in a post on his blog. Basiron's comments are noteworthy because until now he has maintained that oil palm plantations are "planted forests" rather than an industrial crop.
First RSPO-certified ("eco-friendly") palm oil shipment to arrive in Europe
(11/10/2008) The first shipment of palm oil certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is expected to arrive in Europe Tuesday, but an environmental group is already criticizing the initiative's credentials.
Malaysia, Indonesia to curtail palm oil production due to low prices
(11/8/2008) Malaysia and Indonesia ̵ countries that account for more than 85 percent of global palm oil production — will cut production in an effort to shore up collapsing palm oil prices, reports The Jakarta Post. The decline in palm oil prices is expected to slow expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, a development that will please environmentalists who blame the palm oil industry for large-scale destruction of rainforests across Southeast Asia.
EU's sustainable biofuels push angers Malaysia, Brazil
(11/7/2008) Eight developing countries threatened to file a World Trade Organization complaint against the E.U. for its proposed legislation to require imported biofuels to meet environmental standards, reports Reuters.
Palm oil companies propose satellite monitoring of their plantations to ensure sustainability
(11/5/2008) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is considering a proposal to use satellite imagery to enforce criteria that high value conservation areas are not converted to oil palm plantations, reports Ian Wood of the Telegraph. The move would boost RSPO's credibility at a time when the industry-lead sustainability initiative is under fire from environmentalists who say its performance to date suggests it is merely an exercise in greenwashing.
Oil palm expansion in Indonesian Borneo increased 400-fold from 1991-2007
(10/30/2008) Annual forest conversion to palm oil plantations increased 400-fold from 1,163 hectares in 1991 to 461,992 hectares in 2007 in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, reports a new report published by Forest Watch Indonesia, a local NGO.
Borneo logging road puts rainforest, indigenous communities at risk
(10/22/2008) A 186-mile (300-km) logging road to the top of the Bario highlands in northern Sarawak puts the state's increasingly rare natural forest at risk, warns the Borneo Resources Institute, a grassroots environmental group.
Colombian community leader assassinated by agroindustry-backed vigilantes
(10/16/2008) A community leader who opposed paramilitary-based seizure and occupation of land for industrial oil palm plantations and cattle ranches in northwest Colombia has been assassinated, reports the Center for International Policy's Colombia Program and the World Rainforest Movement.
Snares set by palm oil workers taking a toll on pygmy elephants of Borneo
(10/12/2008) Wildlife rangers are finding increasing numbers of Borneo Pygmy elephants injured or killed by snares set by poorly paid oil palm plantation workers, reports Malaysia's Sabah Wildlife Department.
Indonesian governors agree to protect Sumatra's endangered forests
(10/9/2008) The ten governors of Sumatra — along with four federal ministers — have signed an agreement to protect forests and other ecosystems on the Indonesian island, according to WWF. The announcement is significant because Sumatra is a biodiversity hotspot — home to rare and endemic wildlife — that is under great threat from logging and expansion oil palm plantations. The island has lost 48 percent of its forest cover since 1985.
Palm oil industry relies on greenwashing to mislead consumers, alleges report
(10/8/2008) The Malaysian palm oil industry is relying on marketing tactics that mislead the public about its environmental performance rather than taking effective steps to become "greener" alleges a new report from the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE).
Borneo forest people reject oil palm plantation on their land
(10/5/2008) Indigenous forest dwellers in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of Borneo, have rejected a proposal to turn 80,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of the land into an oil palm plantation, reports the Malaysian Star.
Palm oil firm becomes first to win eco-certification
(9/28/2008) United Plantations, a Malaysia-based palm oil producer, has become the first oil palm plantation firm to be certified for adopting the strictest standards of sustainability for palm oil production, according to Bernama.
Malaysian oil palm firms eye Papua for expansion
(9/26/2008) Malaysian palm oil firms are looking to aggressively expand operations in Papua, the Indonesian part of New Guinea, reports Bernama.
Logging, wildlife trade drive sun bears toward extinction
(9/25/2008) Industrial logging, large-scale forest conversion for oil palm plantations, and the illegal wildlife trade have left sun bears the rarest species of bear on the planet. Recognizing their dire status, Siew Te Wong, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montana, is working in Malaysia to save the species from extinction. Known as "Sun Bear Man" in some circles, Siew Te Wong is setting up the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. The project aims to save sun bears, which have largely overlooked by conservationists, through research, education, rehabilitation, and habitat conservation.
Monoculture tree plantations are "green deserts" not forests, say activists
(9/19/2008) A number of environmental and social organizations have declared September 21st: International Day against Monoculture Tree Plantations to highlight the social upheaval and environmental degradation ૼ including impacts on global biodiversity and climate change — wrought by industrial plantations.
11 species of monkeys discovered in West African biodiversity hotspot
(9/15/2008) Urgent conservation measures are needed to protect some of the world's most endangered primates from the hunting, logging, and oil palm development in a region that has only recently emerged from a period of civil strife, report researchers writing in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science.