Indonesia is a tropical archipelago rich in biodiversity, home to around 10-15% of the known species of plants, mammals and birds to this earth. It is also a heavily populated country with a host of critical environmental problems and is a major contributor of global warming. Indonesia’s irreplaceable and lush forests could soon become nothing more than a memory.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In April, Greenpeace staff from around the world assembled in Indonesia to discuss tactics to protect the nation’s forests, which accounts for 10% of the world’s rainforests. It was a pleasure to meet the passionate and inspirational staff working on the front lines of the forest issue, and many shared with us their personal stories from the field.
One that particularly stuck in my mind was a campaigner’s sudden encounter with an orangutan whilst walking through Sumatra’s natural rainforests. What made the encounter so extraordinary was the fact that both human and animal were at that moment mothers carrying their young child. And as if catching their own reflection, they stood there, frozen, gaping at one and wondering with disbelief at both the similarities yet stark differences between them.
This was an incredibly rare occurrence. Orangutans have been on the endangered animals list for years, and numbers dwindle by the day as their homes continue to be destroyed. Regardless, it is these firsthand encounters that act as reminders that it’s not too late to take action and save Indonesia’s rainforests.
Greenpeace works closely with Indonesian civil society and NGOs to protect the nation’s huge forests. Previous campaigns have placed pressure on pulp and paper companies, such as Sinar Mas Group's APP (Asia Pulp and Paper), and led to the company’s recent commitment to a "no deforestation" policy.
However, converting natural rainforests and destroying peatlands to provide fiber for pulp and paper is but one of many issues Greenpeace is tackling to reach their goal of zero deforestation in Indonesia by 2015. A large contributor to mass-scale deforestation in the country is the palm oil industry, which often cuts forests in order to grow oil-palm monocultures.
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, which exports most of this produce to India, China and the EU. Furthermore, demand for palm oil is expected to rise. China is currently the second biggest export destination of palm oil in the world, and palm oil can be found in a range of products, such as instant noodles, cooking oil, snack foods and cosmetics. With slack regulation and big expansion plans of the palm oil industry, deforestation is set to worsen, unless something is done. And, fast.
Greenpeace Indonesia is actively involved in lobbying the government to strengthen national policies to protect the forests. But that’s not enough. Peatlands are probably the world’s most critical carbon stores, and Indonesia's peatlands are vast, storing about 35 billion tonnes of carbon. When the peatlands are drained, burned and replaced with oil palm plantations, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere contribute significantly to global warming.
Which is why Indonesia has become the world’s third largest emitter of climate changing greenhouse gases and become a stark reminder that the destruction of rainforests has huge impacts on the wider world. Palm oil does not have to come at the expense of the forests. Palm oil can be grown sustainably.
Greenpeace is calling for local and global companies to commit to sustainable practices of palm oil cultivation with zero deforestation policies, and for global consumer action to put pressure on these companies to make it happen. In previous campaigns Greenpeace, with the help of supporters, have driven multinational companies like Nestle and Unilever, to recognize the urgency of deforestation and take initial steps to implement Forest Conservation Policies. What are the others waiting for?
Over the coming weeks Greenpeace will lead a ship tour around Indonesia’s islands. Lu Weiju, from our Beijing office, is on board and experience first-hand the beauty of the region and learn how communities are being affected by forest destruction. Follow our site in the coming weeks to learn more about how Greenpeace is spreading awareness and taking action amongst local communities in Indonesia’s less visited areas.
Image: An adult male orangutan is tranquillized by officers from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) before being captured and relocated in Tripa forest. © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace