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Fast food companies are laggards on palm oil sourcing safeguards

(03/05/2014) Fast food companies are lagging behind other consumer products companies in efforts to establish policies that favor deforestation-free and conflict-free palm oil, finds a new assessment published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. The report, titled 'Donuts, Deodorant, Deforestation: Scoring America's Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments', looked at palm oil sourcing policies of 30 of the largest fast food, personal care, and packaged food corporations in the United States. It found leadership by a handful of firms.


Can palm oil move past its bad reputation?

(03/02/2014) Indonesia’s palm oil industry has gained a notorious reputation in recent years. Palm oil companies are routinely accused of clearing primary forests, destroying the habitats of endangered species, releasing massive amounts of carbon by draining peat swamps and fueling land conflicts with local communities. In the face of this widespread criticism, some palm oil companies are exploring ways to clean up their operations by implementing innovative programs to minimize harm to the environment and ensure local communities benefit from palm oil investments, according to a new study.


Sarawak's top official accused of violating constitution

(02/27/2014) Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud has been accused of violating Sarawak's constitution by engaging in commercial activities while serving as the state's top official over the past thirty plus years, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak's forest people.


Palm oil's climate impact worse than thought due to methane emissions

(02/27/2014) Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater significantly increases the climate impact of palm oil production beyond emissions from land clearance, fire, and peatlands drainage, reports a new study published in Nature Climate Change. The research, led by Philip. G. Taylor of the University of Colorado, finds that annual methane emissions from palm oil wastewater effluent amount to the equivalent of 115 million tons carbon dioxide in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, or roughly 15 percent of total emissions from peat oxidation and land use change in the two countries.


Borneo monkeys lose a tenth of their habitat in a decade

(02/25/2014) Four species of langurs monkeys that are endemic to Borneo lost more than a tenth of their habitat in just ten years, finds a study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation.


New forest map for Sarawak reveals large-scale deforestation, encroachment on indigenous territories

(02/24/2014) A new online platform released by the Bruno Manser Fund reveals large-scale destruction of Sarawak's rainforests, peatlands, and traditional lands. Drawing from a variety of sources, the Sarawak Geoportal includes data on logging concessions, oil palm plantations, existing and proposed dams, historical forest cover, the extent of indigenous cultivated areas, election results, and area where there are current native customary rights (NCR) disputes.


Wilmar refutes Sarawak govt's claims on palm oil ban

(02/17/2014) Palm oil giant Wilmar has refuted a claim that it will stop buying crude palm oil from the Malaysian state of Sarawak due to its new 'no deforestation' policy.


Through careful management, indigenous people have shaped Asian rainforests for 11,000 years

(01/28/2014) Humans have been actively managing vast areas of Southeast Asia's forests for longer than previously believed, according to research by paleoecologists from the United Kingdom presented in the current Journal of Archaeological Science. Strong evidence suggests that humans in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam have engaged in agricultural practices for the last 11,000 years. These findings may help bolster the claims of local indigenous peoples under threat of eviction from their traditional lands.


How “insect soup” might change the face of conservation

(01/23/2014) Much of what we know about patterns of biodiversity has come from extensive fieldwork, with expert researchers sampling and identifying species in a process that takes thousands of man-hours. But new technologies may revolutionize this process, allowing us to monitor changes in biodiversity at speeds and scales unimaginable just a decade ago.


Environmental groups: top secret Pacific trade agreement to sacrifice wildlife, environment

(01/16/2014) Environmental groups have blasted draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) released yesterday by WikiLeaks as potentially devastating to the environment and wildlife. The massive 12-nation free trade agreement has been negotiated in secret now for almost four years, and the information release by WikiLeaks shows that key environmental safeguards in the agreement are being stripped away, including a ban on shark finning and illegal logging, as well as legally-enforced pollution regulations.


Requiem or recovery?: the Sumatran rhino 200 years after its description

(01/08/2014) In 1893, William Bell, a surgeon in the service of the Dutch East India Company stationed in Bencoolen, Sumatra, examined the body of a dead rhinoceros. The animal, a male, was relatively small as rhinoceroses go, measuring only four feet four inches at the shoulder and eight feet five inches from its nose to the tip of its tail. Dr. Bell noted that the animal resembled a large hog and judged it to be a young individual based upon the condition of the bones and teeth.


Rainforest news review for 2013

(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.


Unraveling the secrets of one of the world's most mysterious big cats

(12/22/2013) The Sunda clouded leopard has always been shrouded in mystery. Only declared a separate species from its mainland cousin, the Borneo clouded leopard, in 2006, the IUCN lists the cat as Endangered. The distinction between the Borneo clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulas) and the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi) was made by ground-breaking molecular coding technologies and anatomy studies of the two species. Although it is Borneo's largest predator, very little is known about the Sunda leopard. As a medium-sized, well-camouflaged and mostly nocturnal animal, the leopard has evaded researchers since its discovery eight years ago.


UN raps Malaysia on palm oil abuses, risks

(12/19/2013) Malaysia's push to join the ranks of rich countries shouldn't come at the expense of the environment or the vulnerable groups, warned a U.N. expert after a visit to the Southeast Asian nation.


Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2013

(12/19/2013) China begins to tackle pollution, carbon emissions: As China's environmental crisis worsens, the government has begun to unveil a series of new initiatives to curb record pollution and cut greenhouse emissions. The world's largest consumer of coal, China's growth in emissions is finally slowing and some experts believe the nation's emissions could peak within the decade. If China's emissions begin to fall, so too could the world's.


Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline

(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.


Top 10 Environmental Stories of 2013

(12/10/2013) 1. Carbon concentrations hit 400ppm while the IPCC sets global carbon budget: For the first time since our appearance on Earth, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million. The last time concentrations were this high for a sustained period was 4-5 million years ago when temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius higher. Meanwhile, in the slow-moving effort to curb carbon emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) crafted a global carbon budget showing that most of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.


Satellites reveal browning mountain forests

(11/22/2013) In a dramatic response to global warming, tropical forests in the high elevation areas of five continents have been "browning" since the 1990s. They have been steadily losing foliage, and showing less photosynthetic activity. Scientists analyzed the forest cover by using satellites to measure sunlight bouncing off the surface of the earth, then determining the different surface types via reflection patterns.


Malaysia has the world's highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest map

(11/15/2013) Malaysia had the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012, according to a new global forest map developed in partnership with Google. Malaysia's total forest loss during the period amounted to 14.4 percent of its year 2000 forest cover. The loss translates to 47,278 square kilometers (18,244 square miles), an area larger than the country of Denmark.


Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide

(11/14/2013) Researchers today released a long-awaited tool that reveals the extent of forest cover loss and gain on a global scale. Powered by Google's massive computing cloud, the interactive forest map establishes a new baseline for measuring deforestation and forest recovery across all of the world's countries, biomes, and forest types. The map has far-reaching implications for efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities, according to the authors of the paper that describes the tool and details its first findings.


3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years

(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.


Murum dam blockaders may be suffering human rights violations warns NGOs

(11/12/2013) A coalition of nearly 30 organizations has sent a letter to top authorities in Sarawak and Malaysia warning them of possible human right violations against a group of indigenous Penan who are blocking roads to the construction site for Murum Dam. Over 100 indigenous people have been blocking a road for over a month as they demand more compensation and land after being forced to move from their traditional lands to make way for the 900 megawatt dam.


8 tribesmen arrested in Borneo dam protest

(11/07/2013) Malaysian authorities arrested eight indigenous protestors on Thursday in a crackdown on a long-running demonstration against a dam the tribesmen say will flood their homeland in Malaysian Borneo.


Palm oil companies ignoring community rights, new study shows

(11/07/2013) Some of the largest palm oil companies are clearing forests and peatlands without seeking consent of local communities, leading to a spate of unresolved conflicts in plantation concessions around the world, warns a coalition of NGOs and researchers. Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) are violating the rights of local communities in tropical forests and failing to live up to social and environmental commitments, the coalition said in a report released on Thursday.


Indigenous groups expel workers, blockade another dam in Sarawak

(11/05/2013) Hundreds of tribal people in Sarawak have started blockading a second big hydroelectric dam project being built by a government, which critics accuse of nepotism and corruption. Late last month around 200 native Kenyah, Kayan and Penan people chased away workers and set up a blockade on a road leading to the site of the proposed 1200 megawatt Baram dam.


World's most cryptic feline photographed in logging concession

(11/04/2013) The bay cat is arguably the world's least-known member of the cat family (Felidae). Although first described by scientists in 1874, no photo existed of a living specimen until 1998 and a wild cat in its rainforest habitat wasn't photographed until five years later. Given this, scientists with Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Imperial College London were taken aback when their remote camera traps captured numerous photos of these elusive cats hanging out in a commercial logging concession in Sabah, a state in Malaysian Borneo.


New corruption allegations in Sarawak energy project

(11/04/2013) An infrastructure company with ties to Sarawak's chief minister has just landed a $196 million contract to build transmission lines, sparking new complaints about cronyism and corruption in the Malaysian Borneo state.


Scientists: to save the Malayan tiger, save its prey

(10/31/2013) A major premise of biology, as any high-schooler can tell you, is the study of the connections between organisms. Perhaps nowhere is there a better example of this than in Malaysia, where the population of Endangered Malayan tigers (Panthera tigris jacksoni) is being undercut by dwindling prey. A recent study by MYCAT, the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers, highlights this connection by presenting a distinct correlation between prey and tiger population.


'Sustainable' tropical timber trade a misnomer, says group

(10/24/2013) The production and trade in 'sustainable' timber products in Southeast Asia is mostly 'a mirage' due to questionable forestry practices and loopholes in import regulations, alleges a new report from Friends of the Earth International.


Norway blacklists 2 Malaysian logging companies for 'severe environmental damage' in Borneo

(10/14/2013) Norway's $760 billion pension fund has divested from two Malaysian forestry companies due to 'severe environmental damage'.


Celebrities aim to raise $1.6 million to keep orangutan forests from the the chopping block in Borneo

(10/02/2013) Sir David Attenborough, Bill Oddie and Chris Packham are supporting an effort to save the orangutan from extinction by raising £1m in just two weeks. Orangutans in their natural environment live in undisturbed ancient forests and for many years it was believed they shunned any other habitats. But researchers have discovered they can survive just as well and perhaps even better in forests that have been intensively thinned out by loggers, giving renewed hope for the species.


Bornean elephant meets palm oil: saving the world's smallest pachyderm in a fractured landscape

(10/01/2013) In the Malaysian state of Sabah, where most conservation students are still foreigners—either European or American—Nurzahafarina Othman stands out: not only is she Malaysian, a Muslim, and a mother of a young daughter, but she's rapidly becoming a top researcher and champion for the world's smallest elephant: the Bornean elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis). Although sometimes described as a pygmy elephant, they still weigh 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds). The origin of these 'tiny' elephants in Malaysian Borneo have baffled scientists for decades.


Borneo tribesmen block road as controversial rainforest dam impoundment begins

(09/27/2013) Indigenous leaders have set up roadblocks in Malaysian Borneo to protest Sarawak's newest dam, report environmental activists who oppose the project.


Malaysia clearcutting forest reserves for timber and palm oil

(09/26/2013) In July Bikam Permanent Forest Reserve in Malaysia's Perak state was degazetted, allowing the forest to be clearcut for an oil palm plantation. Only after the forest was lost, did the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) announce that it had contained the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) on the Malay peninsula, a large hardwood tree that's classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The species is now reportedly extinct in Malaysia, although may still be found in Indonesia. However, the degazettement of the 400-hectare Bikam Forest Reserve wasn't an abnormality, according to activists. Since 2009, over 9,000 hectares of Permanent Forest Reserves have been degazetted in northwestern state, wiping out not just trees, but undercutting protected mammals and birds while threatening watersheds.


Zombie coal: Borneo resurrects controversial coal plant

(09/18/2013) The Malaysian government is taking another look at building a hugely controversial coal-fired plant in the Bornean state of Sabah, a proposal that was thrown out in 2011 due to a large-scale grassroots movement. The 300 megawatt coal plant would have been built in Lahad Datu on the edge of a wildlife reserve and the state's renowned coral reefs. Reportedly, the government is now considering building the same plant only further south in Tawau, which also lies on the coast.


Activists target major snack makers over 'conflict' palm oil

(09/12/2013) Environmental activists have launched a major campaign targeting 20 of the largest snack food companies that use palm oil in their products. The campaign, led by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), says that food giants are failing to ensure the palm oil they source does not drive deforestation or worsen social conflict.


Japanese firms buying illegal timber from Malaysia’s endangered rainforests

(09/10/2013) Japanese companies are failing to keep illegally logged timber from entering their supply chains, international human rights and environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a report released today. The report links several major Japanese firms to logging companies that are destroying tropical rainforests in Malaysian Borneo through illegal and destructive logging practices in Sarawak province.


Large-scale opposition among Borneo villagers to deforestation

(09/10/2013) Nearly two-thirds of villagers surveyed across rainforests in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo are against large-scale deforestation due to the adverse impacts on livelihoods and the environment, finds a comprehensive new study across 185 communities. The research, conducted over a one-year period by an international team of scientists, is published in this week's issue of the journal PLOS ONE. The study found that people who live near forests place the greatest value on the benefits they afford, including medicinal plants, game, clean water, and fiber.


Malaysia to launch palm oil certification scheme to compete with RSPO

(09/06/2013) Malaysia will launch its own certification standard for palm oil produced by local firms by 2014, reports Reuters. The initiative aims to differentiate Malaysian palm oil from that produced in other countries, while offering a less stringent alternative to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the sector's leading certification body.


Scientists outline how to save nearly 70 percent of the world's plant species

(09/05/2013) In 2010 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) pledged to set aside 17 percent of the world's land as protected areas in addition to protecting 60 percent of the world's plant species—through the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)—by 2020. Now a new study in Science finds that the world can achieve both ambitious goals at the same time—if only we protect the right places. Looking at data on over 100,000 flower plants, scientists determined that protecting 17 percent of the world's land (focusing on priority plant areas) would conserve 67 percent of the world's plants.


Six smugglers sentenced to jail time over pangolin trafficking in Malaysia

(08/20/2013) Six men have been sentenced to a year in jail after being convicted of smuggling 150 pangolins in peninsular Malaysia, reports Annamiticus. The men were also given fines totaling over $100,000.


Malaysian NGOs form alliance to address palm oil concerns

(07/31/2013) Seven Malaysia-based NGO's have banded together to form an alliance to provide a Malaysian civil society perspective on social and environmental issues related to palm oil production. The initiative aims to counter Malaysian industry claims that concerns over palm oil are purely driven by Western NGO's.


Palm oil drives Malaysian rainforest tree to extinction

(07/30/2013) Oil palm plantations have extinguished the last habitat of a rainforest tree in Malaysia. Last week the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), a state agency, announced that the last stands of keruing paya (Dipterocarpus coriaceus) in Peninsular Malaysia were wiped out when Bikam forest reserve in Perak was cleared for oil palm plantations.


Rare animal species and Buddhist monks in danger of losing their home to cement quarry

(07/22/2013) An international cement company Lafarge, winner of a Green Initiative award, is considering quarrying a cave in Malaysia which is the sole home of a critically endangered species. The proposed operations also threaten a Buddhist monastery near the cave where monks are facing eviction. Kanthan cave in Peninsular Malaysia is located in a limestone hill, already extensively quarried for the production of cement by Lafarge. The cave, just as most karst caves in Southeast Asia, harbors a unique ecosystem. One of the rare endemic organisms is the Kanthan Cave trapdoor spider (Liphistius kanthan), which was just designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.


Weak laws governing Malaysia's indigenous people complicate conservation efforts

(07/22/2013) The balance between biodiversity conservation, land acquisition, natural resource utilization and indigenous peoples is often wrought with conflict. Legislation governing the use of natural resources should ideally protect biodiversity and address the needs of indigenous peoples, but in many places, falls short of these ambitions. In a recent study published in Biodiversity Conservation, researchers examined the weaknesses in select natural resource laws that affect the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia, and compared these laws with data on a specific group of indigenous people’s use of natural resources, collected through questionnaires. In addition to suggesting potential solutions to address legislative weaknesses, the researchers make a strong case for why natural resource legislation is a matter of concern for conservationists.


Labor abuse widespread in Indonesia's palm oil industry, finds investigation

(07/19/2013) Human rights abuses are rife in Indonesia's booming palm oil industry, found an in-depth investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek.


80% of rainforests in Malaysian Borneo logged

(07/17/2013) 80 percent of the rainforests in Malaysian Borneo have been heavily impacted by logging, finds a comprehensive study that offers the first assessment of the spread of industrial logging and logging roads across areas that were considered some of Earth's wildest lands less than 30 years ago. The research, conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Tasmania, University of Papua New Guinea, and the Carnegie Institution for Science, is based on analysis of satellite data using Carnegie Landsat Analysis System-lite (CLASlite), a freely available platform for measuring deforestation and forest degradation. It estimated the state of the region's forests as of 2009.


Activists raise alarm over park that will dispossess Borneo tribe of land

(07/10/2013) Rights activists are warning that a proposal to classify islands forming in the midst of the Bakun Dam reservoir will further deprive indigenous forest people of their traditional land.


Influential British editor banned from Sarawak

(07/03/2013) Clare Rewcastle Brown, the editor of Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak, has been deported from Sarawak reports the Bruno Manser Fund. Both the Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak are known for high-profile and investigative journalism that is often critical of Sarawak's chief minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud or 'Taib', and his family for alleged corruption.


Palm oil companies linked to haze see share prices drop

(06/24/2013) Three firms linked to fires in Sumatra saw their share prices decline since the haze crisis worsened a week ago.



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