How Fixing Palm Oil Could Save Orangutans From Extinction

by Achmad Saleh Suhada

August 21, 2015

The United Nations recently made the bold declaration that orangutans could face extinction in Borneo. Why? Because deforestation is "simply unsustainable."

Orangutan in Central Kalimantan

Baby orangutans at the Orangutan Foundation International Care Center in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan. Expansion of oil palm plantations is destroying their forest habitat.

© Ulet Ifansasti / Greenpeace

This article was originally published by Greenpeace International

In Indonesia, the palm oil sector was the single largest driver of deforestation between 2009 and 2011, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s forest loss. Orangutans face extinction in Borneo due to habitat clearing, which is underway across Indonesia and Malaysia. If this continues, a staggering 75 percent of Southeast Asia’s original forest cover will be lost by 2030 according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

OK, so that’s the bad news. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

If you care about forests as much as I do, you may already know that around half the products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. Until now, it’s been impossible to know whether the shampoo, potato chips, or chocolate we’re purchasing—all products that contain palm oil—are contributing to rainforest destruction and destroying the homes of orangutans and tigers.

Deforestation in Papua

Smoke rises from burning wood rows as forest is cleared to make room for a palm oil plantation in Papua, Indonesia.

But thankfully, those difficult shopping days may be coming to an end.

For the first time, palm oil is being produced that is independently verified as not originating from rainforest clearance, not being planted in carbon-rich peatlands, or contributing to social conflicts.

In 2013, Greenpeace helped establish the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), a joint initiative between NGOs and businesses that aims to promote environmental responsibility and community partnerships. It’s the first step in creating standards that can finally verify whether or not the palm oil you are consuming is free from deforestation.

And just recently, the scheme has approved three companies, two in Latin America and one in Papua New Guinea. Other companies, including operators in Indonesia, are also lining up for this ‘top of the class’ recognition.

For the first time, we are finally showing larger palm oil producers and palm oil consumers that strong certification schemes can work.

Orangutan Feeding Platform near Tanjung Puting National Park

Orangutans at a feeding station run by Orangutan Foundation International.

What Does This Mean for the Orangutans?

It’s a first step, but POIG now offers a simple solution for companies wanting to guarantee zero deforestation, and it means people like you and me will all be able to choose our chocolate, food and cosmetics with greater peace of mind.

It also means we are helping transform an industry, and turning around the terrible prospect that orangutans—as well as tigers and other animals—could be pushed to extinction within our lifetime.

Learn more about how you can help protect forests in Indonesia and around the world.

Achmad Saleh Suhada

By Achmad Saleh Suhada

Achmad Saleh Suhada is the Forest Solution Coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, based in Indonesia.

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