November 24th, 2015

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As Indonesia burns, its government moves to increase forest destruction

Leading environmental scientists are criticizing an initiative by Indonesia and Malaysia to force large palm oil corporations to abandon their ‘no deforestation’ pledges.

At a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday (November 21), Indonesia and Malaysia formed the ‘Coalition of Palm Oil Producing Countries’. Together, the two nations produce 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.

“A key goal of this Coalition is to force corporations that produce or use palm oil to revert to the bad old days—to destroy large tracts of forest for oil palm plantations,” said Professor William Laurance, director of ALERT, the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers.

“It’s astonishing to see an initiative like this just as Indonesia has been suffering the worst fire crisis in its history,” said Laurance. 

“Haze from Indonesian fires has been so bad that schools and airports have been closed repeatedly across Southeast Asia, and some 500,000 people have suffered respiratory distress,” said Professor Thomas Lovejoy, an ALERT member and former environmental advisor to three U.S. presidents.

In the last two years, many major forest-exploiting corporations have pledged not to destroy more forest, after coming under growing pressure from consumers and environmental groups.

“By 2020, Indonesia alone plans to clear 14 million hectares of additional land for oil palm and other uses,” said Associate Professor Lian Pin Koh, another ALERT member. “The no-deforestation agreements stand in the way of these plans, so Indonesia and Malaysia are attempting to scuttle them with their new Coalition.”

“Indonesia is destroying its rainforests faster than any other tropical nation,” said Koh. “In my opinion this new Coalition is a giant step backward.”

“I predict that any corporation rash enough to backslide on its hard-won no-deforestation pledge will be targeted by environmental groups and punished by consumers,” said Laurance.

And see this related story, which appeared today on The Conversation, for further background:

For further information:
Distinguished Professor William Laurance,
Director of ALERT and the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science,
James Cook University, Australia
Email: (monitored constantly). Phone: +61-7-4038-1518