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Indonesian climate official: palm oil lobbyist is misleading the public

Alan Oxley, a lobbyist for industrial forestry companies in the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors, is deliberately misleading the public on deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions, said a top Indonesian climate official.

Writing in an editorial published in the Jakarta Post, Agus Purnomo, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s special assistant on climate change, says Oxley is acting in the interests of bad actors in pushing a pro-deforestation agenda and opposing a moratorium on conversion of primary forests and peatlands for industrial plantations.

“Oxley’s campaign for continuing the unsustainable practice of clear-cutting our remaining primary forest and to fan opposition to the two-year moratorium is no doubt welcomed by the unscrupulous business entities,” he writes. “Oxley claims that the two-year moratorium on clearing primary forest lands is a move against development. In our consultations with the private sector, community groups, NGOs and local governments, no companies have raised objections to the idea of a moratorium.”

Purnomo’s editorial is a response to a commentary Oxley published in the same paper on December 15. Oxley cited an unpublished study from Winrock International in claiming that “deforestation is not a major generator of greenhouse gas emissions.” Oxley ignored a clarification issued by the authors of the study, which emphasized the importance of reducing deforestation in helping mitigate climate change.

Deforestation for oil palm cultivation in North Sumatra.

In his editorial, Purnomo further notes that it is unclear whether the study cited by Oxley “considers Indonesia’s national emissions, or indeed any emissions from tropical peat soils, one of the most important sources of emissions from land-use change in Indonesia.”

Purnomo’s public rebuke is not the first for Oxley, who has offices in Australia and the United States. In November Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her tree-planting campaign in Africa, blasted Oxley for using her name to imply that she supports the large-scale conversion of tropical forests for industrial plantations. In October a group of prominent scientists castigated the lobbyist and two organizations he runs: World Growth International and ITS Global. In an open letter the scientists identify World Growth (WGI) and ITS Global as front groups for the palm oil, timber, and wood-pulp industries.

“WGI and ITS — which are frequently involved in promoting industrial logging and oil palm and wood pulp plantations internationally — have at times treaded a thin line between reality and a significant distortion of facts,” the scientists, led by William F. Laurance, a researcher at James Cook University, wrote. “ITS is closely allied with, and frequently funded by, multinational logging, woodpulp, and oil palm corporations. The financial supporters of ITS include parent corporations producing paper and wood products under the aegis of ‘Asia Pulp & Paper’, among others.”

“WGI frequently lobbies public opinion on the behalf of Sinar Mas holdings, a conglomerate of mostly Indonesian logging, wood-pulp, and oil palm companies that includes Golden Agri Resources, a Singapore-based firm. One of these companies, known as ‘SMART’, could face expulsion by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry-led trade group, for ‘serious non-compliance with the RSPO Code of Conduct’ with respect to its environmental and social sustainability guidelines.”

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