Clearing Ban Renewed in Indonesia's Tropical Forests

About a third of the world’s remaining tropical forests are to be found in Indonesia. They include some of the world’s most biodiverse rainforest, home to countless species of animal, including the orangutan, elephant and Sumatran tiger. Between 2000 and 2010, Indonesia lost almost 3 million acres of forest each year. A two-year moratorium on felling forests in an effort to halt deforestation (deforestation that benefits timber, paper and palm oil companies) cut this to 450,000 acres a year. The moratorium recently expired, leaving plantations and loggers legally free to expand into new areas (although they are expanding ILLEGALLY all the time anyway). Indonesia is already the world’s third-largest carbon emitter.

On Monday 13th May, Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, signed a two-year extension of the moratorium, which bans new logging permits for primary, or virgin, forest — i.e. forest not logged in recent history. The moratorium was vehemently opposed by — big surprise — palm oil planters. A spokesman for the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Producers said the ban caused Indonesia to be overtaken by Malaysia as the world’s biggest producer of palm oil. (And who will care when the rain forest is GONE??)

“We firmly reject any proposal to extend this moratorium because we stand to lose more than we gain from it,” the spokesman said. Profit NOW is apparently more important than the fact that carbon dioxide emissions were found this week to have reached the highest atmospheric concentration in recorded human history. If emissions continue to rise the world will experience devastating degrees of warming within several decades — apparently still too far in the future for the palm oil companies to care.

Environmentalists say the moratorium is, while better than nothing, still far from sufficient. It excepts projects already approved by the forestry minister and others considered vital, such as for power production, and leaves many glaring loopholes. For example, the province of Aceh on the island of Sumatra has overturned its own deforestation ban at the local level and plans to open up a million hectares of protected forest for exploitation despite the moratorium — and despite a petition with almost almost a million signatures.

It is a good point to mention (again?) that none of us should be using palm oil. It isn’t in anything crucial, it isn’t in anything you can’t do without. I know we were all delighted to find Earth Balance….but it contains palm oil, so ditch it. Spectrum Canola Oil Spread (at Vegan Haven) and Saffola margarine (at QFC) are both vegan and palm oil-free. You can do it.