The World Resources Institute (WRI) has launched an innovative avoided deforestation model that aims to deter conversion of Indonesian rainforest for oil palm plantations.
The project, dubbed “POTICO” (Palm Oil, TImber, Carbon Offsets), integrates sustainable palm oil, FSC-certified timber, and carbon offsets in order to “divert new oil palm plantations onto degraded lands and bring the forests that were slated for conversion into certified sustainable forestry”.
WRI says POTICO would allow the palm oil industry to expand without destroying tropical forests. The implications for forest conservation are tremendous — oil palm development is presently one of the leading drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia.
While tens of millions of hectares of degraded land is suitable for oil palm development in Indonesia, plantations are often established on forest land for two reasons: a ‘logging subsidy’ generated by the sales of timber and concession arrangements with governments that avoid claims arising when land has already been ‘used’ for a prior purpose. WRI says POTICO will provide an alternative model for the oil palm industry that will enable it to truly become more sustainable.
“POTICO’s main goal is to divert new oil palm plantations away from forests, onto degraded areas. This would ensure that oil palm plantations could keep expanding to meet demand—generating local revenues and jobs—while halting the destruction of forests,” said WRI in a statement.
“POTICO aims to demonstrate that it is possible to pay for this ‘more expensive’ way to develop new plantations by developing a combination of different revenue streams. This will circumvent the perverse economic incentive to clear virgin forests when establishing oil palm plantations.”
WRI hopes to convert 1.25 million acres of degraded land into oil palm plantations, but the environmental group notes that POTICO would work with local communities to resolve conflicts over such lands.
“It is important to note that degraded lands in Indonesia are usually not empty,” said WRI. “These lands are often used by local communities.
“Any new developments by companies on those lands would need free, prior and informed consent from the communities. Under POTICO, WRI will work with communities and the companies to meet the highest standards of free, prior and informed consent.”
Oil palm plantations near Lahad Datu, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Jonathan Lash, president of WRI, says POTICO will help Indonesia curtail greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation. Indonesia is presently the world’s third largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
“Deforestation is having a significant impact on people, biodiversity and the climate,” said Lash. “Project POTICO will relieve pressure on Indonesia’s virgin tropical rainforests, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing, and prevent the loss of biodiversity in forests slated for conversion to oil palm plantations. Well-designed oil palm plantations in degraded areas would create local jobs and protect traditional livelihoods of forest-dependent people.”
NewPage, a forest products company that has partnered with WRI on POTICO, says that the initiative may help rein in illegal logging. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest sources of illicit timber.
“Project POTICO, in combination with the U.S. Lacey Act, will help level the global playing field by minimizing illegal logging and reducing the amount of product brought into the United States that is produced in violation of the law,” said Rick Willett, president and chief operating officer for NewPage, noting that recent amendments to the Lacey Act now make it illegal to import into the U.S. wood or paper derived from illegally harvested trees. “We are making an investment in this project because we strongly believe that major improvements must be made globally in the area of sustainable forest management.”
Forest products will be produced on lands currently slated to be converted for oil palm plantations. The trees will be left standing “as protected forest or will be sustainably managed to supply Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood or fiber for use in paper products”, according to WRI.
Sekala, an Indonesia-based NGO, is also a partner in POTICO. Sekala will provide spatial analysis and community mapping.
Degraded grasslands better option for palm oil production relative to rainforests, finds study
Producing biofuels from oil palm plantations established on degraded grasslands rather than tropical rainforests and peat lands would result in a net removal of carbon from the atmosphere rather than greenhouse gas emissions, report researchers writing in Conservation Biology. The results confirm that benefits to climate from biofuel production depend greatly on the type of land used for feedstocks.
Biofuels can reduce emissions, but not when grown in place of rainforests
Biofuels meant to help alleviate greenhouse gas emissions may be in fact contributing to climate change when grown on converted tropical forest lands, warns a comprehensive study published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Analyzing the carbon debt for biofuel crops grown in ecosystems around the world, Holly Gibbs and colleagues report that “while expansion of biofuels into productive tropical ecosystems will always lead to net carbon emissions for decades to centuries… [expansion] into degraded or already cultivated land will provide almost immediate carbon savings.” The results suggest that under the right conditions, biofuels could be part of the effort to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint.
But initiative could save forests and alleviate rural poverty:
An interview with Indonesian forest expert Ketut Deddy
While environmentalists, scientists, development exports, and policymakers across the political spectrum are enthusiastic about the idea of offsetting carbon emissions by preventing deforestation (a concept known as “avoided deforestation” or Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)), the concept still faces many challenges, especially in implementation. Issues range from “permanence” (whether a county can ensure that forest carbon savings are permanent) to “leakage” (what happens when carbon conservation in one area drives deforestation in another?) to baseline data establishment (how does one measure historic deforestation to establish a baseline for calculating reduction?). Further questions over land rights (will REDD trigger a land rush by industrial agriculture giants and forestry firms?) as well as how local communities will benefit (the cost of registering and establishing a REDD project may top $50,000, a nearly insurmountable sum for communities and small-scale forest holders in some of the world’s poorest countries) are also valid. Still, with deforestation and land use change accounting for as much as 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions–more than the entire transportation sector–many agree that REDD will be an important part of a global climate change mitigation strategy. With its carbon-rich forests and peatlands, Indonesia is widely seen as having the best potential for REDD initiatives.