Calls for a boycott were quickly met with criticisms that a boycott is unlikely to work and could even be counterproductive.
WWF Singapore and the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze) have teamed up with the Singapore Institute for International Affairs to create the #XtheHaze campaign.
Indonesia’s Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC) submission ahead of UN climate talks does not include a zero deforestation pledge.
To boycott, or not to boycott? That seems to be the question many are asking as Southeast Asia’s haze problem, caused by fires set to clear Indonesian forests and peatland for agriculture, is once again blanketing Singapore in thick clouds of smog.
Oil palm farmers are unlikely to ever voluntarily stop burning forests to prepare land for crops, and the Indonesian government has so far proven either unable or unwilling to enforce laws against the agriculture fires — though it did recently detain seven individuals allegedly involved in the illegal burning of forests on Sumatra island.
The persistence of the haze problem year after year has led to calls for a boycott against all products containing palm oil, since oil palm plantations are one of the chief drivers of deforestation fires in Indonesia.
Those calls were quickly met with criticisms that a boycott is unlikely to work and could even be counterproductive. “If we want to replace oil palm with other oilseed crops, then we must be prepared to provide at least nine times as much land to grow them. The social and environmental impacts would also multiply,” according to one response in The Straits Times.
In an article for Today Online, Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF Singapore, and Tan Yi Han, president of the PM.Haze campaign, argue that while it is clear that something must be done, a boycott of palm oil products is not a viable option.
“Palm oil is actually an efficient crop and replacing it with another oil crop would only introduce us to a new set of environmental problems,” they write. “What we must change is the way this versatile product is produced, and switch to sustainable palm oil, which does not lead to the generation of haze.”
To that end, WWF Singapore and the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze) have teamed up with the Singapore Institute for International Affairs to create the #XtheHaze campaign, which aims to focus consumer pressure on businesses and manufacturers to switch to sustainable sources of palm oil.
While consumer pressure campaigns have certainly made numerous environmental gains around the world, others have taken a more data-driven approach. A World Resources Institute (WRI) analysis last year found that Riau, a province located on the east coast of Sumatra, accounted for 81 percent of all fire alerts on Sumatra and 58 percent of fire alerts in all of Indonesia over the preceding year.
WRI then consulted Global Forest Watch data to determine that 75 percent of fire alerts in Sumatra were on peatland, a type of soil made of partly decomposed organic material that burns longer and produces more smoke than other fires when it’s burned. The smoke produced by peat fires is associated with an increased risk of respiratory illness and heart attacks, WRI notes.
A CIFOR study found that forest fires in Riau province emitted 1.5 – 2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions in just one week in 2012 — about one-tenth of Indonesia’s total annual emissions.
“Indonesia’s government, together with its partners such as leading NGOs and international development agencies, can use this information to focus their efforts in Riau,” the authors of the WRI report write. “Major companies such as APRIL and Sinar Mas, which have major plantation development operations across Riau, could also assist beyond the boundaries of their concessions with their superior capacity, monitoring systems, and equipment.”
But if the Indonesian government has plans to rein in the smog hazard, it hasn’t made those plans public. Indonesian officials recently revealed a draft of their country’s Intended Nationally-Determined Contribution (INDC) document, which is essentially their emissions reduction plan, submitted to the UN ahead of the COP21 climate summit to be held in Paris this December.
“This document should have set out solutions to the ongoing deforestation crisis, which has pushed Indonesia into the ranks of the world’s top GHG emitters,” The Ecologist writes. “But unfortunately — and despite Indonesia’s commitments under the New York Declaration on Forests and the soon-to-be-ratified Sustainable Development Goals — the draft INDC fails to provide any commitment to zero deforestation, or peatland protection and restoration.”