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February in Review: Palm oil giant goes green? Sabah cancels coal project

A review of’s February 2011 stories.

Three of the 10 most popular articles on the news site during the month of February were about palm oil.

The most visited item was a feature written in January that provides an overview of the social and environmental issues associated with oil palm expansion on forest and peat lands. But a hopeful palm oil story also ranked well: the decision by Golden Agri Resources (GAR) to adopt a comprehensive forest policy that prohibits conservation of conservation value forest areas, peatlands, and high carbon ecosystems. The policy also requires GAR, Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer, to get free prior informed consent (FPIC) from local communities potentially affected by new plantations. While the story might be easily dismissed as a public relations stunt, there is reason this time to believe the policy is more than marketing—Greenpeace, one of GAR’s fiercest critics, has cautiously welcomed the deal. The Forest Trust, a Switzerland-based NGO, will help GAR implement the policy.

Expansion of the oil palm estate and natural forest loss in Indonesia and Malaysia, 1990-2008. Click image to enlarge

The third most popular palm oil post reported on a recent assessment of Sarawak’s forest cover. The study, conducted by by environmental group Wetlands International and remote sensing institute Sarvision, found that more than one third (353,000 hectares or 872,000 acres) of Sarawak’s peat swamp forests and ten percent of the state’s rainforests were cleared between 2005 and 2010. About 65 percent of the area was converted for oil palm. Malaysia’s response to the report was curious—Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Unggah Embas questioned the analysis, while the president of the Malaysian Nature Society, Maketab Mohamed, was quoted as saying that remote sensing couldn’t be used to reliably measure deforestation. Mohamed later told via email that he was misquoted by the press.

Mongabay’s interview with Gilberto Camara, head of Brazil’s space agency INPE, also drew a lot of interest, including a retweet from Sophia Bush, an American actress. Camara discussed Brazil’s advanced deforestation monitoring system.

Two other interviews ranked in the top 10 most popular news articles for the month: an interview with marine biologist and accomplished author Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute, and a Q&A with Michele Raffin, who is on a private mission to save some of the world’s most threatened birds.

Finally, one of the biggest stories of the month was a happy one for environmentalists: Sabah announced it would not proceed with a controversial coal-fired power plant that threatened some of the Malaysian state’s richest ecosystems. Local activists had waged a long campaign against the project, which Dan Kammen, a renewable energy expert with UC Berkeley and the World Bank said was unnecessary given Sabah’s cleaner energy options.

Most popular news articles – February 2011

  1. Greening the world with palm oil? [8622]
  2. Monitoring deforestation: an interview with Gilberto Camara, head of Brazil’s space agency INPE [6735]
  3. Breakthrough? Controversial palm oil company signs rainforest pact [5401]
  4. The ocean crisis: hope in troubled waters, an interview with Carl Safina [4799]
  5. Best Valentine’s Day gift: name a hissing cockroach after your sweetheart [3889]
  6. Environmentalists and locals win fight against coal plant in Borneo [3601]
  7. Environmental groups deny ‘conspiracy’ claims by Madagascar’s acting leader [3348]
  8. World deforestation rates and forest cover statistics, 2000-2005 [2801]
  9. Woman turns home bird sanctuary into effort to save rare birds [2299]
  10. Malaysian palm oil producers destroying Borneo peat forests faster than ever before [2197]
  11. From Cambodia to California: the world’s top 10 most threatened forests [1900]
  12. Incredible new photos of uncontacted tribe in the Amazon [1684]
  13. Saving Madagascar’s largest carnivorous mammal: the fossa [1629]
  14. South Sudan’s choice: resource curse or wild wonder? [1621]
  15. How to save the Amazon rainforest [1607]
  16. Visiting the rainforest – a practical guide [1604]
  17. Food crisis 2011?: drought in China could push food prices even higher [1533]
  18. Photos: new super tiny frogs discovered in Sri Lanka, one critically endangered [1518]
  19. Why is oil palm replacing tropical rainforests [1484]
  20. Future threats to the Amazon rainforest [1460]
  21. Dubai’s artificial islands have high environmental cost [1394]
  22. Leaked government study: road will damage Serengeti wildlife, despite president’s assurances [1319]
  23. Cambodia approves titanium mine in world’s ‘most threatened forest’ [1285]
  24. A lion’s story, an interview with the filmmakers of The Last Lions [1258]
  25. Coral reefs decimated by 2050, Great Barrier Reef’s coral 95% dead [1247]
  26. Chevron found guilty, ordered to pay $8.2 billion in epic oil contamination fight [1166]
  27. Elle MacPherson promotes consumption of illegal rhino horn [warning: graphic image] [1163]
  28. Gulf of Mexico bottom still coated in oil, recovery long way off [1133]
  29. How Genghis Khan cooled the planet [1110]
  30. Africa’s vanishing wild: mammal populations cut in half [1091]
  31. Indonesia set to clear 3 million ha of rainforest in New Guinea [1085]
  32. Sarawak’s last nomad: indigenous leader and activist, Along Sega, dies [1079]
  33. Worldwide search for ‘lost frogs’ ends with 4% success, but some surprises [1072]
  34. World Bank offers to save Serengeti from bisecting road [1064]
  35. Secrets of the Amazon: giant anacondas and floating forests, an interview with Paul Rosolie [1045]
  36. Forest loss slows as UN marks ‘International Year of Forests’ [1006]
  37. Image: new bird discovered in Madagascar [997]
  38. Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra lose 9% of forest cover in 8 years [997]
  39. Does chopping down rainforests for pulp and paper help alleviate poverty in Indonesia? [988]
  40. The real Avatar story: indigenous people fight to save their forest homes from corporate exploitation [987]
  41. Photo: slaughtered great hornbill by soldiers raises ire [warning: graphic image] [986]
  42. First International Serengeti Day hopes to halt road project [934]
  43. Demise of passenger pigeon may be linked to rise of Lyme disease [930]
  44. Parks key to saving India’s great mammals from extinction [921]
  45. World’s only pure blue lizard at risk of extinction [905]
  46. Sarawak government mocks its indigenous people [899]
  47. Video: camera trap proves world’s rarest rhino is breeding [894]
  48. Cane toads increasingly a problem in Australia [865]
  49. Picture: unknown carnivore discovered in Madagascar lake [853]
  50. Greenpeace accuses McDonald’s of destroying the Amazon rainforest [843]

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