It always amazes me how the actions – or rather inaction – of high-level meetings in far-off cities can so seriously impact forests in my own country.
Today, an organisation with the declared aim of ensuring environmentally responsible palm oil production – the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – will be voting on new rules for its members – mostly palm oil producers, traders and consumers. It’s a big day for the organisation, because for the first time, members will be deciding whether or not to introduce rules on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and clearance on peatlands – which are massive stores of carbon.
The process looked promising last year, but the final proposal is weak. Unfortunately, the new Principles and Criteria (P&C) that will likely be passed do not enforce anything. Instead, the new principles “strongly encourage” that members “commit to a process” to reduce GHG emissions. Another major loophole of the RSPO – the fact that RSPO traders can buy palm oil from producers involved in deforestation – wasn’t addressed at all.
Deforestation is contributing to global climate change and a biodiversity crisis. This much we know. Rainforest destruction, including the clearance of carbon-rich peatlands, is the reason why Indonesia ranks as one of the world’s largest emitters of GHGs, alongside the USA, China and Brazil – and why only around 400 Sumatran tigers are left in the wild.
So while the RSPO debates and wrangles over these toothless new “principles and criteria”, Greenpeace International has documented new evidence strongly indicating that one of the organisation’s very own members – notorious Indonesian palm oil producer, Duta Palma – is flouting RSPO rules and the Indonesian government’s moratorium on forests.
This isn’t all new. Duta Palma long been in our sights: it has a long and sad history of deforestation, community conflict, illegality, and non-compliance with RSPO regulations.
Field investigations by Greenpeace International, earlier this year, strongly indicate that Duta Palma is behind the clearance of hundreds of hectares of peatland rainforest and tiger habitat outside the official boundaries of one of its concessions in Riau, Sumatra. Ministry of Forestry officials confirmed that no permit had been issued for the location. And the company has been mute, consistently failing to answer Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s requests for further information about its operations.
What does this mean?
It means palm oil traders, like Wilmar and Sime Darby that are known to have supplied Duta Palma's dirty palm oil to the international market need to come clean about their supply chains.
It also means that the RSPO is a toothless tiger. To gain any credibility, it needs tighten its rules to genuinely promote zero deforestation.
Sustainability is more than word. It means real, credible action. Companies that sell products that contain palm oil, can no longer hide behind the RSPO. They have to ensure that their products are deforestation free. We need action now.
Keep an eye on our work here to see how you can be part of the solution.
Wirendro Sumargo is a Palm Oil Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia.