Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate

Feature story - November 16, 2007
With a banner reading "Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate" the Rainbow Warrior has anchored next to a palm oil tanker blocking it in port. Our ship is stationed close enough to the tanker that the tug boats can't get it out of dock.

The tanker is a large one, loading tons of palm oil. The Rainbow Warrior has two anchors out from its bow. One is actually under our ship and our crew has rigged ropes from the back of the Warrior to the anchor's chain. This keeps the Rainbow Warrior from being swung around by current or wind - so it stays in good position.

What's wrong with this stuff

This particular cargo of palm oil is headed for India, but countries all over the world import the stuff.  The harbor here has huge holding tanks full of it from plantations on what was once rainforest land.  

The exporting company is Permata Hijau Sawit. They source oil from companies known to be involved in forest destruction and forest fires on peat land in Riau province, Indonesia.

The expansion of palm oil plantations into forest and peatland areas poses a serious threat to the global climate and Indonesia's remaining forests. Expansion plans in Riau province alone have the potential of triggering a "climate time bomb." Riau's peatland forests store a massive amounts of carbon - equivalent to one year's global greenhouse gas emissions.

Among other things, palm oil is used in cosmetics and to make snack foods like Pringles and KitKats. It's also used for biofuels.

Taking action in the port and in the forest

"The crew and captain did an amazing job getting us into position - calm, smooth and controlled," said Sue Connor, Greenpeace International forests campaigner on board the Rainbow Warrior. "The logging, draining and burning of Indonesia's peatland forests releases a massive amount of stored carbon back to the atmosphere. This contributes to Indonesia being the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. That's why we're here."

We're also taking direct action in the forest.  The peat soils of Riau have the highest concentration of carbon stored per hectare of anywhere in the world.  But as the forests are cleared, drained and burned this carbon is released.  

Our solution - stop the draining. With the help of locals, activists at our Forest Defenders Camp have been damming up the drainage canals.  This will prevent the peatland from drying out and releasing carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.  

In less than three months time, Indonesia is also going to host a meeting in Bali where governments will decide their next steps on climate change. Commitment to zero deforestation is one of the things that needs to come out of that meeting.

Let's hope they get the message.