ALERT today issued a press release decrying a recent initiative by Indonesia and Malaysia to force large palm oil corporations to abandon their ‘no deforestation’ pledges.
The press release coincided with a hard-hitting article published today in The Conversation by ALERT director Bill Laurance.
At a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday (November 21), Indonesia and Malaysia formed the "Council 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 Laurance.
“It’s astonishing to see an initiative like this just as Indonesia has been suffering the worst fire crisis in its history,” said Laurance. "There are so many fires the archipelago looks like an over-lit Christmas tree."
“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 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 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.”
Indonesia's forests and peat-lands are among the biologically richest in the world, and also harbor huge stores of carbon. During its peak, the rampant burning of carbon-rich peat-lands alone was producing as much carbon emissions as the entire United States.
“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.