Friday, 30 November 2007

For peat's sake - stopping the rot in the logging industry

Sydney Morning Herald

For peat's sake - stopping the rot in logging industry

December 1, 2007

With world leaders preparing to nut out the Kyoto Protocol's successor, the culture of corruption in Indonesian forestry presents one of the biggest challenges, writes Mark Forbes.

Lashed together four abreast, a raft of illegal logs seems to take forever to snake down a winding, peat-stained stream in Borneo. More than 100 metres wide and guided with a pole by a sullen logger, it drifts through a tropical peat forest, past ramshackle logging camps, the silence broken by a distant chainsaw buzz and occasional tree fall.

Here is the dark heart of the plunder of Indonesia's forests. Loggers have ravaged the trees, farmers have fire-cleared, and palm-oil companies now want to drain most of the remaining Sungai Putri ("daughter of the river") forest to plant their lucrative crop.

Police and officials pocket bribes, unconcerned at the fate of this environmental treasure trove. It is populated by endangered orang-utans, who swing above and make their massive nests in the treetops - but those who have to walk its paths sink in the sodden peat-mire below.

Palm oil will bring quick wealth, with promises of greater riches as 57,000 hectares are drained to enable villagers to burn and plant. They know little of global warming here and cannot comprehend that the forest's peat - rich decayed trees and organic matter between four and 13 metres deep - holds masses of carbon, potentially worth millions of dollars if protected under proposed changes to the Kyoto Protocol.

Scientists calculate that clearing Sungai Putri could release 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Such forest-related emissions from Indonesia have already made it the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter.

Over the next two weeks in Bali the world's leaders will begin to forge a new strategy to reduce the growing threat of global warming. They will consider a radical expansion of the Kyoto Protocol to pay countries and companies that exploit forests to protect them instead.

Researchers, environmentalists and developing nations argue that without stopping forest destruction - which accounts for a fifth of all greenhouse emissions - the battle to halt climate change is doomed.

With $US200 million ($226.5 million) from the World Bank to kick-start a global forest carbon protection fund, Indonesia is set to be the world's test case. If it can reverse practices that have destroyed nearly half its forests, clearing nearly 2 million hectares a year, it hopes to be rewarded with billions of dollars.

The difficulties of changing a culture of corruption and exploitation are immense, but must be faced, says Frances Seymour, the director of the world-leading Centre for International Forestry Research.

Indonesia's massive forests and peatlands make it the place to begin to address deforestation. "If you agree with Al Gore that we are in a climate emergency and you have to do everything you can about it, then forests have to be part of the answer," Seymour says.

In the dank Sungai Putri forest, sinewy men such as Tono labour to chainsaw trees, carrying with a workmate the 150-kilogram logs to narrow paths where rickety boards run along the peat. There they are balanced on ageing, steel-reinforced bicycles that are ridden to the stream on a journey that would challenge a circus performer.

He does not enjoy this life, living on rough-hewn platforms above the damp soil for 10 days at a stretch. "It is hard work; these logs are really heavy," Tono says. "I know I am breaking the law, but I have a family to feed."

The $5 he earns a day is "far from enough", he says. "My sons, my grandsons will have to work just like me; I cannot afford education for them."

Tono would welcome a palm-oil plantation. "They will get rid of the water; I can work there or do farming. In the other villages they have a better life with palm oil: they get money every month, every house has a motorbike."

Tono and his four-man team see little of the forest's illicit wealth. The logs they float down the stream are worth 10 times more by the time they reach the timber bosses in the regional capital of Ketapang - 20 times if smuggled on a short boat trip to Malaysia.

In Ketapang those bosses have grand homes and fraternise with local officials. One was invited by police to attend a key government meeting on preventing illegal logging earlier this year.
The family of one of the most senior provincial officials has shares in illegal sawmills and palm-oil companies he has issued with licences. Usually, he demands a $1000 "fee" to help issue a licence.

Although a decree from the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, bans clearing land with more than three metres of peat, four companies have been issued palm-oil location licences in Sungai Putri.

Indonesia is already the world's largest producer of palm oil and with demand and prices booming - partly because of its promotion as an environmentally-friendly "biofuel" - at least another 10 million hectares are earmarked.

In the province of West Kalimantan, of the 3 million hectares released for palm-oil plantations, only 10 per cent has been planted. Mostly these logs have been cleared for a quick profit, leaving a

devastated landscape behind. The drained peat is highly susceptible to fires, which release masses of carbon and blanket the region in haze every year.

Such environmental vandalism is neither new nor isolated. In Central Kalimantan sits a denuded, fire-prone 800,000 hectares cleared for a massive rice project by the former Indonesian president Soeharto. Not a grain was grown, but cronies pocketed the logging revenue.

Illegal logging is sanctioned within the Forestry Ministry. Dr Bambang Setiono, a forest finance policy analyst with the Centre for International Forestry Research, estimates Indonesian loggers reap about $US6 billion a year, half from illegal timber.

Official ministry data had defined illegal logs as sourced from the "free market". Under greater scrutiny, it now uses the term "other legal sources" for suspect logs. With legal and illegal logs deliberately mixed, and the forestry minister viewing any transgressions by companies with logging licences as "administrative violations", prosecutions are difficult unless authorities follow the money trail.

About $US3 billion from illegal logging is laundered each year through banks, with money regularly flowing back to Forestry Ministry and district officials.

In Sumatra province this year a police crackdown seized more than 1 million illegally cut logs linked to large pulp companies. Prosecutions have been hampered by Forestry Ministry officials, including the minister, Malem Sambat Kaban.

The Herald has obtained letters from Kaban urging police to abandon their investigations. One letter was instrumental in the release in October of one of Indonesia's most notorious timber barons, Adelin Lis, who immediately fled overseas for a second time.

In an endorsement requested by Lis's lawyer, Hotman Paris, Kaban stated Lis had committed only administrative violations.

A second letter to North Sumatra's police chief, governor and chief prosecutor criticises police for pursuing large logging companies. They should be supported as they "employ many workers and their existence provides significant social and economic effects", Kaban wrote.
Companies that held logging concessions could not be criminals, as any breaches were administrative, he states. "In order to avoid the excess of operations towards illegal logging that blocked operations of legitimate permit holders" police should leave any sanctions to the ministry, Kaban urges.

Although Kaban's ministry would be responsible for overseeing and enforcing forest protection under Indonesia's proposal to the Bali conference, he continues to emphasise the needs of the pulp and paper industry. "The investment has reached $US25 billion; this needs a continued supply of raw materials."

Indonesia's Environment Minister, Rachmat Witoelar, will preside over the Bali conference and says it is essential the meeting endorses the REDD (Reducing Environmental Deforestation and Degradation) scheme, as part of the new, post-Kyoto regime and immediately approve Indonesian pilot projects. Asked how he could guarantee forest protection when the forestry minister seems to be part of the problem, Witoelar replies: "Touche."

"It is highly embarrassing," he says, adding that many of Kaban's claims are true but it creates a damaging "psychological position".

Things must change, Witoelar says. "I have to integrate the positions as Indonesia has a lack of credibility."

Protecting forests such as Sungai Putri from palm-oil plantations is an uphill battle, he admits. "There is a long way to go but we will use the incentives and disincentives that come from global funding.

"First of all we must try and insist the district leaders are not part of the crime and I am for catching them and putting them in jail," Witoelar says.

"Then the local population are complaining they have no subsistence. Let's give them subsistence."

If the forest protection program is to work, Seymour says, funds must flow to the locals, but the scheme will face corruption and other moral challenges. "This isn't going to be easy," she says. "Do we want to pay illegal loggers to stop their illegal activities? That doesn't feel right.

"There will be trade-offs between equity and efficiency. It may be the most potent investments will be giving funds or investing in activities that appear to benefit the bad guys, not the good guys."

Joe Leitmann, the World Bank's environment co-ordinator for Indonesia, does not underestimate the difficulties, but says solutions must be found. The bank's $US200 million fund is intended to iron out some of the issues in practice.

"One in five tons of carbon emitted comes from the forests," Leitmann says. "We want to kick-start this very, very important market."

It was a similar World Bank scheme that began the global trade in carbon credits for cuts to industrial emissions, now worth more than $US30 billion a year.

Under the new program, countries such as Indonesia would earn carbon credits for halting deforestation, which could be sold to companies and other countries to help meet their targets for cuts in emissions.

The value of those carbon credits would depend on Indonesia's credibility in enforcing carbon protection and complex measurement schemes estimating the amount of carbon preserved. And the only body equipped for the job is the heavily compromised Forestry Ministry.

Seymour says her organisation "and pretty much all the organisations that care about forests face a moral hazard, because on the one hand it's great - we have new political attention, new money to do what we do - and on the other hand we know better than anyone else how hard this is going to be".

She prefers to focus on the positive, taking heart from two forward-thinking provincial governors embracing the radical shift. Aceh's Irwandi Yusuf and Papua's Barnabas Suebu have announced a moratorium on forest-clearing licences before the Bali conference.

Thousands of forest rangers would be employed to implement environmentally friendly
policies, they pledged in a joint statement.

Witoelar also applauds the moves. "The value of the 20-odd million hectares in Papua is so much that Bas Suebu can expect to have so many billion dollars for keeping himself honest," he says.

The cost of the scheme is projected to rocket and Seymour says this links the two big issues for the Bali conference: incorporating forests in the successor to the Kyoto Protocol and the scale of cuts countries such as Australia are prepared to adopt - bigger cuts will stimulate demand.

The looming debate will be too late to stop the logging or help feed his children, Tono predicts. "For years we hear about programs for the forests, money through the government," he says. "But it never reaches us."

When Biofuel is Bad for the Environment

When Biofuel is Bad for the Environment

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007 By KRISTA MAHR/RIAU
TIME Magazine

On a recent humid morning in Riau, a province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, a young man named Suranto wakes early on a Sunday, wraps a red T shirt around his head and ambles off to the fields to work. Suranto isn't a local; he has come from northern Sumatra because there are jobs in Riau.

The forests and peatlands of the area are being transformed into plantations, and workers are being paid to plant tens of thousands of young oil-palm trees in fields stripped bare of their native vegetation by burning. As Suranto stoops and digs one hole after another amid the blackened stumps of an old tropical forest, he looks like a camp follower picking through the detritus of a still-smoldering battlefield.

Which is exactly what Riau province is, in a way. Roughly the size of Taiwan, the area has become the focus of a green-versus-green tussle pitting environmentalists trying to protect Indonesia's disappearing forests against a fast-growing alternative-energy business. Palm oil, a byproduct of the oil-palm tree such as those being planted in Riau, is used for cooking and as a food additive.

Growing it has long been a big business in Southeast Asia. But it can also be used in the production of a relatively clean-burning alternative fuel: biodiesel. As oil prices have soared in recent years, Indonesian companies have been converting vast tracts of forests and peat bogs into palm-oil plantations to feed a rapidly expanding biodiesel industry; between 1995 and 2005, the amount of Indonesian land being used to grow oil palms increased by some 8.6 million acres (3.5 million hectares), more than doubling total plantation area, according to a recent report on the industry by Credit Suisse.

The biodiesel boom has a high environmental cost, however. Critics say it's contributing to global warming. Tropical forests help remove millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Burning and clear-cutting not only eliminates one of the planet's crucial air-filtration systems, the process also releases even more carbon dioxide into the air, in smoke or as gases released during the decomposition of forest waste.

Annual clearing of Indonesia's carbon-rich peatlands alone releases some 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases, according to a Greenpeace report. Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China, says the World Bank. "We liken what's going on [in Indonesia] to pouring petrol on a fire," says Martin Baker, a Hong Kong–based communications officer for Greenpeace International. "It's completely ridiculous to produce green fuels from places like this."

It doesn't seem so ridiculous to poor countries like Indonesia, where leaders are torn between the need to develop the country's natural resources and increasing international pressure to preserve remaining forests. This dilemma is expected to be a hot topic this month at a U.N.-led conference on climate change in Bali, where representatives from 189 nations are gathering to negotiate a set of environmental rules to succeed the Kyoto protocols, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.

With 20% of the world's emissions coming from carbon released into the atmosphere via deforestation, one of the more controversial ideas to be floated at the conference will likely be a proposal to create an international carbon-trading system that would, in effect, allow countries such as Indonesia to be paid for not cutting down their forests.

Although details have yet to be hammered out, the concept is similar to a European Union carbon-trading system that sets limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, allowing companies exceeding those limits to buy "credits" from companies that produce less than their fair share of pollutants. Thus, heavy polluters are penalized (they have to pay for credits to stay within the cap), while greener groups are rewarded (they get paid for being under the cap), and the continent as a whole meets its emission targets.

But the plan has plenty of skeptics. The United Nations on Nov. 27 released a report questioning whether the carbon-trading system established under the Kyoto protocols is working. Moreover, it's unclear if developing countries would go along with such a proposal. Due to illegal logging as well as the clearing of land for farming and other uses, Indonesia has been losing between 3.7 million and 4.7 million acres (between 1.5 million and 1.9 million hectares) of trees annually for the past 10 years, a deforestation rate that is among the fastest in the world.

In other words, razing forests is a big business — and carbon credits might not provide an adequate substitute for the profits that come from converting fallow land to income-producing ventures like palm-oil plantations.

And even if the government signs on to the program, ordinary Indonesians might not. Indonesian authorities in the past have found it difficult to control illegal logging and land-clearing because much of it takes place in remote areas of the vast Indonesian archipelago, beyond the reach of the law.

"Even if you have money coming in, how [is the government] going to be able to assert control in these frontier places?" asks Rod Taylor, WWF International's forests program director. Indonesia's Minister of Forestry, M.S. Kaban, says this problem has been solved. "The burning is stopped. Our people are very committed," Kaban says. He notes that there were more than 7,000 criminal cases brought against illegal loggers in 2005; the crackdown has been so effective that the caseload plummeted to 616 in 2006. "I believe that in 2007, [illegal logging] cases will be very, very few," Kaban says.

That may be so — but as long as there is demand for biodiesel, it seems unrealistic to expect Indonesia to stop converting forests into plantations.

These days, Riau's main highway is clogged with trucks carting processed palm oil from local refineries to the Sumatran port town of Dumai. Outside one house, not far from the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, a woman weighing out heavy red palm fruit on a scale in her front yard says her family used to only sell fruit from their 200 palm trees.

But with the high prices palm oil fetches these days, she says her family members have gone into business as middlemen for the industry, helping other small growers sell to larger plantations. "We were able to move up," she says.

It's success stories like this one that will bedevil those attending the Bali conference. One of the central issues will be how to justly allocate the economic burden of reducing greenhouse emissions among industrialized countries — which have grown rich fouling the air and using up natural resources — and developing countries like China, India and Indonesia. "We have to be careful about asking developing countries to lock up their forests," says Taylor of the WWF. That is, at least until the world has found a way to make locking up the forests pay.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Palm Oil Not Green For Asia - UN Report

ENVIRONMENT: Palm Oil Not Green For Asia

- UN ReportBy Marwaan Macan-Markar 27th NovemberBANGKOK, Nov 27 (IPS) -
European Union (EU) demand for supposedly green-friendly fuels, such as palm oil, is coming at a high social and environmental cost in Asia, warns a new report released Tuesday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The U.N. agency cautioned countries in the region against following the lead taken by Indonesia and Malaysia, the main producers of palm oil as a biofuel, in its annual ‘Human Development Report 2007/2008’.

‘’Expansion of cultivation of (oil palm) in East Asia h as been associated with widespread deforestation and violation of human rights of indigenous people,’’ revealed the report, titled ‘Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world’.

Since 1999, EU’s demand for palm oil (primarily from Malaysia and Indonesia) have more than doubled to 4.5 million tonnes, or almost one-fifth of world imports,’’ adds the 384-page report.

‘’Opportunities for supplying an expanding European Union market have been reflected in a surge of investment in palm oil production in East Asia.’’

‘’There are lot of safeguards that have to be built in if you want to make palm oil production environmentally sustainable,’’ Martin Krause, UNDP climate change advisor, said at the launch of the report in the Thai capital.

‘’The debate on this has just begun. ’’ The U.N. agency’s concerns echo a similar red flag raised last week by another report, ‘Up in Smoke: Asia and the Pacific,’ which was released by a coalition of British development and environmental groups.

The rapid growth of palm oil plantations has resulted in massive deforestation in Indonesia, which has led to large amounts of carbon dioxide trapped in the forests being emitted into the atmosphere, stated that report.

‘’As a result of deforestation, some of which is for palm oil, Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, after the USA and China,’’ it added. ‘’Deforestation to make way for large-scale mono-cropping of energy crops obliterates the ‘green credentials’ of the biofuel.’’

These cautionary views about palm oil are expected to feed into the discussions billed to emerge during a major international climate change meeting to be held in early December in the Indonesian resort-island of Bali.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be attended by representatives from over 180 countries with a mission to craft a blueprint of global action to stall the emerging environmental catastrophe caused by climate change.

The global cultivation of palm oil had reached 12 million hectares by 2005, according to the UNDP, which was ‘’almost double the area in 1997.’’ Production is ‘’dominated by Indonesia and Malaysia, with the former registering the fastest rate of increase in terms of forests converted into palm oil.’’

According to the British report, the South-east Asian archipelago has nearly six million ha of land under palm oil and Jakarta has set its sights of further expansion. &ls quo;’In 2007, the Indonesian government signed 58 agreements worth 12.4 billion U.S. dollars in order to produce about 200,000 barrels of oil-equivalent biofuel per day by 2010.’’

Environmentalists view the forests of Indonesia and others in Asia under threat of being converted into palm oil plantations as essential carbon sinks to absorb the carbon dioxide emitted to the world.

As important are peatlands that are part of natural forests. Destroying such forests results in the stored carbon in the peatland forests adding to the greenhouse gases (GhGs) and the loss of carbon sinks.

‘’Peatland forests are traditional carbon storehouses. Typically they store up to 30 percent carbon dioxide,’’ Shailendra Yashwant, climate and energy campaigner for the South-east Asia office of Greenpeace, told IPS from Jakarta. ‘’A four-million heactare peatland f orest in a province in northern Sumatra stores 14.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide.’’

Studies done by Greenpeace, the global environmental lobby, reveal that nearly 28 million ha of forests have been destroyed in places like Sumatra, Suleweisi and Kalimantan in Indonesia since 1990. Currently, thousands of ha of peatland are being cleared for another palm oil plantation, all of which are owned by private companies.

The attraction to palm oil plantations, which preceded the emerging demand for biofuels from the EU, stems largely from the relative ease with which they can be grown and the healthy returns. ‘’The prices for palm oil have been very good. There has always been a demand for it,’’ Patrick Durst, senior forestry officer at the Asia and Pacific division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said in an interview.

‘’It is not a labour-int ensive crop, unlike some other agriculture products.’’ Consequently, other south-east Asian countries ranging from Burma, Thailand and Cambodia to Vietnam and the Philippines have begun following the Indonesian and Malaysian model of palm oil production.

Bangkok has set its sights on having 1.6 million ha under oil palm cultivation in the next two decades, a nearly five-fold increase from the current 320,000 ha of palm oil plantations. If countries have to invest in palm oil as a green-friendly fuel, however, the UNDP points to some success stories, where ‘’environmental friendly and socially responsible ways’’ have taken root in small-scale agroforestry ventures. ‘’Much of the production in West Africa fits into this category.’’

Peat bog destruction emissions reached 40pc of global total

Peat bog destruction emissions reached 40pc of global total
By Thomas Bell in Central Borneo

Last Updated: 7:01pm GMT 28/11/2007

The destruction of peat bogs in Indonesia, partly to grow supposedly "green" bio-fuels, releases more carbon dioxide every year than all of India or Russia, and three times as much as Germany.

According to recent research by Wetlands International, a conservation group, "the emissions in 1997 alone, which was a particularly bad year, were estimated to have reached 40pc of global CO2 emissions."

When Indonesia hosts a United Nation climate conference in Bali next week to prepare a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, the focus will be on halting the destruction of peat bogs and forests, and on the bio-fuel craze which is driving the problem.

Peat is made up of ancient plant material which never fully decomposed in wet conditions, forming a global carbon bank equivalent to 70 years of emissions at today's rates. But vast tracts of tropical bog on Borneo and the neigbouring island of Sumatra are being cleared, drained and burnt to grow palm oil.

Palm oil prices are at record highs, and future demand seems guaranteed.

European legislation requires that 2pc of all diesel must be biofuels, rising to 5.7pc in 2010 and 10pc by 2020. Elsewhere, governments including America's are promoting bio-fuels.

With so much money involved politicians have latched onto the industry as a source of economic growth and, critics allege, of big kickbacks. Indonesia hopes to add 24 million hectares of palm oil plantations to the six million already developed by 2015.

One of the biggest environmental disasters on Borneo is the Mega-Rice Project, a 3,860 square mile area of former peat bog once covered with tropical forest that was felled and drained for rice cultivation in the mid-1990s.

Where there were forests abundant in orangutans and other wildlife there is now a grid of canals, dusty earth and charred stumps.

Rice never grew here. The government had ignored scientific advice that the crop would fail in acidic soil. Environmentalists want to re-flood to preserve the peat, but the district government has drawn up plans to plant 440 square miles of oil palms here.

The Bali conference may offer a partial solution. Indonesia, and other countries with big tropical forests, are pushing hard for a scheme that would create a market in carbon safely stored in natural banks such as forests and bogs.

Under Kyoto, which expires in 2012, only carbon that has already been emitted by industry can be traded. Economists say the scheme would be a relatively cheap way to reduce global warming, costing the developed world GBP50bn a year to -in theory at least- end the destruction all together.

That would cut global greenhouse emissions by 20pc at a stroke.
"They don't have forests, but we do, so if we all want this one Earth of ours to survive, please share [the burden]", Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said this week.
Scheptics say such a scheme would be hard to design, or to implement in countries with widespread corruption.

But Indonesia has every reason to confront the problem - rising sea levels threaten to drown many of the coutry's 17 000 islands.

Southeast Asia seeks to crack down on animal trade

Southeast Asia seeks to crack down on animal trade

Wed May 23, 2007 6:51am EDT Reuters

JAKARTA, May 23 (Reuters) -

Southeast Asian nations plan to set up task forces to help fight the illegal animal trade in a region that is home to many endangered species, an Indonesian forestry official said on Wednesday.

Conservation groups welcomed the plan, but said the problem appeared to be getting worse and urgent action was needed.Police, customs and forestry officials from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are meeting in the Indonesian city of Bogor south of Jakarta to discuss the issue.

"There are ongoing talks about joint investigation efforts, information-sharing mechanisms and the possible use of facilities in certain countries for investigation and enforcement," Agus Joko, an official at the Indonesian foreign ministry, said by telephone.

The meeting was expected to finalise plans to set up inter-agency crime task forces that would eventually be given enforcement powers, he said."We are working towards joint enforcement but I think we are still a couple years away from that.

"Authorities in the region, which is home to some of the last untouched rainforests in the world, have uncovered cases of smuggled animals ranging from endangered orangutans to pangolins and cockatoos.

Orangutans have a price tag of $50,000 and mostly end up in the homes of collectors in countries where law enforcement in weak such as Cambodia or the Philippines, according to conservationist Hardi Baktiantoro.

The Middle East is currently the top destination for illegal wildlife trade as rich people like to flaunt their wealth and power by keeping endangered animals as pets.

Asep Purnama of Indonesian conservation group ProFauna said that based on monitoring at entry points for animal smugglers in places such as Sumatra and Bali the problem was getting worse.

"The quantity of illegal species traded has gone up, as well the variety of species traded," Purnama said, adding that establishing wildlife crime task forces could help overcome squabbles between different agencies working on the issue.

Another conservation official said he thought the scale of the problem was greatly underestimated.

"Any numbers would only show the tip of the iceberg," Khairul Saleh of WWF Indonesia said.

Logging damage revealed by secret filming

Logging damage revealed by secret filmingBy Paul Eccleston
Last Updated: 5:01pm GMT 28/11/2007

Secret filming by villagers has revealed the damage being caused to the Indonesian rainforests by uncontrolled logging and palm oil plantations.

The ancient way of life of natives in Papua is being threatened by the wholesale destruction of their forests.

The Indonesian province is inaccessible to outsiders and closed to journalists so it was left to the villagers to expose the activities of the logging companies.

They were given digital camera equipment and taught how to use it by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which investigates and exposes environmental and wildlife crime, working with the Jakarta-based NGO Telapak.

The two conservation groups have been working with tribal communities in Papua to help them protect their forests from unsustainable exploitation and illegal logging.

A series of films released simultaneously in London and Jakarta, show the scale of destruction being caused to the forests which the villagers rely on almost entirely for food and shelter.

One was shot by the Mooi people who live in the Sorong regency of West Papua. It shows the relationship between the Mooi and their dependence on the forest lands and features undercover filming of logging.

Once a stretch of forest has been stripped bare it is replaced with palm oil plantations but in the process much of the wildlife - pigs, deer and birds which the villagers rely on for food - is driven out.

The film questions whether the logging began even before a licence was granted for 32,000 hectares of Mooi land to be turned over for plantation in 2006.

The film shows workers clearing the ancient forests with chain saws before bulldozers move in to level it for palm trees to be planted.

Mooi women in the film say the destruction of vast swathes of their forest make it more difficult for them to continue with their traditional weaving crafts making household items and sleeping mats from tree bark.

And tribal hunters say they now have to travel great distances to find game where previously it was abundant in their forests.

Another film shot in the Prafi plain, in the Arfak region of Manokwari regency in West Papua Province tells of the consequences of state-sponsored palm oil plantations.

Senior community figures were sent by the government to Medan in Sumatra in 1982 to bring oil palm back to their area. The film shows the consequences to local people who lose their rights to the land and see it destroyed.

Promises that palm oil would sustain them for generations fail to materialise and the plantations fall into neglect as they become unprofitable.

Villagers tell in the film how their rivers have been polluted by discharges of undiluted palm oil from a factory and how they develop rashes when they wash in it.

Ananias Muid, one of the villagers sent to learn about palm oil admits he now regrets the communities' involvement with it.

Paul Redman, who has worked on projects for EIA in Indonesia for five years, said: "These are the voices of local people, the voices of the forest - explaining the issues that directly affect them and their lives.

"They are films made by Papuans, about Papua - they are the real thing. They were researched, written and filmed by them."

Some of the film-makers' identities have been kept secret because of security concerns. "These people have worked extremely hard to bring these films together, sometimes at great personal risk.

"For example, one film-maker waited for four days in the forest to get footage of illegal loggers. Logging is a multi-million pound industry which impacts upon where they live. "For them, the forest is their supermarket - when it is gone they have nothing and no access to any income either.

"They want these stories to be told and these stories have to be told - without their land, they have no hope."

First sighting of orang utan twins

2007/11/25-New Straits Times

First sighting of orang utan twins By : Jaswinder Kaur

KOTA KINABALU: Holding on tightly to their mother, orang utan twins were spotted at least twice at the Lower Kinabatangan region in eastern Sabah, in what is believed to be the first ever documented sighting of twins in the wild.

Cardiff University wildlife geneticist Dr Benoit Goossens saw the twins clinging to their mother at the banks of the Kinabatangan river on Oct 23.

Several days later, Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project (KOCP) field assistant Mohd Daisah Kapar, who was out on assignment to monitor primates, saw the mother and her twins at the Resang river, a tributary of the Kinabatangan.Goossens, who has been studying wildlife in Sabah for the past few years, said the babies were probably not more than 6 months old.

"They were of the same size, so that is why I believe that they were twins. The twins looked healthy based on my observation, and their mother was busy eating fruits. They were clinging on to both sides of her chest.

"The interesting thing was that there was another juvenile orang utan with them, maybe about 7 years old. The orang utan actually had three children with her, including her twins. I observed them for about half-an-hour," Goossens told the New Sunday Times.Daisah said he saw a group of tourists in boats admiring what he guessed to be a primate and decided to have a look.

"I looked up and saw the orang utan eating ficus fruit and with two babies of the same size holding on tightly to each side of her and suckling."I observed them for about 30 minutes before the sun set. I regret that I did not have a camera to take pictures of what I saw but I am sure that they were twins.

I had a good look and the babies were of equal size."We tried to track the orang utan again the following days but so far we have not succeeded in finding them." French primatologist Dr Marc Ancrenaz, who is also KOCP co-director, said he conducted a search and found that there were no records of orang utan twins in the wild.

"This could be the first sighting. However, not having any records of orang utan twins in the wild does not mean that it has not happened before. "It may be that orang utans in the wild have had miscarriages when carrying twins, as recorded among three in captivity in zoos and wildlife centres in other parts of the world.

It may also be that one twin died after birth. It is rare to see orang utans giving birth in the wild, so we do not know whether there are twins among them in the wild," he said."Another issue is that an orang utan would have problem holding on to two babies.

The mother needs to move from tree to tree, and she also needs to focus on looking for extra food because she has to produce twice as much milk."In a set of twins observed in captivity, one twin died four weeks after it was born because the mother did not have enough milk, and this was an orang utan that had access to food.

"Unlike other primates, orang utans are solitary animals. They don't have other orang utans to help them take care of an extra baby. If one of the twins has problems holding on to their mother, it could fall, killing it. The mother definitely has a physical problem of holding on to two babies," said Ancrenaz, who has studied orang utans in Sabah with his wife, Dr Isabelle Lackman Ancranaz, for the last decade.

He said based on observations of other primates that had more than one baby, it was safe to assume that an orang utan with twins would not abandon her children.He said of the 626 recorded orang utan pregnancies in captivity, there were only 11 with twins, and these include three pairs that miscarried.

Ancrenaz said orang utans were slow breeders with between seven and eight years passing before it could have another child. Pregnancies last eight-and-a-half months."We estimate that the life span for a female orang utan in the wild is 40 years, and it usually starts producing when it is about 10 to 12 years old.

That means in her lifetime, an orang utan can only produce between four and five children," he said.Surveys have shown that there are about 11,000 orang utans in Sabah. The primate is totally protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Climate change deals another blow to orangutans

Climate change deals another blow to orangutans
Wed Nov 28, 2007

JAKARTA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Climate change will hurt Indonesia's orangutan population, already under threat from the rapid rate of deforestation, by reducing their food stock, a leading conservation group said on Wednesday.

Dubbed as the last of Asia's great apes, orangutans once ranged the region but a recent UN environment programme estimate said only between 45,000 and 69,000 orangutans remained in Borneo and 7,300 in Sumatra.

The WWF said climate change would add to the pressure already caused by human-induced activities such as rampant illegal logging and massive conversion of forests into plantations.

"A longer dry season will reduce the abundance of fruits and will negatively impact orangutan populations because females are more likely to conceive during periods when food resources are not limited," the WWF report said."Climate-change induced fire will also negatively impact orangutan populations by fragmenting their habitat and reducing the number of fruit bearing trees, which can take many years to mature and fruit."

Environmentalists say rampant illegal logging, lethal annual forest fires and the massive conversion of forests into plantations for palm oil and pulp wood have helped place orangutans on the world's list of endangered species.

"We have seen an example in East Kalimantan, where there was once an abundance of fruits at the beginning of the year followed by a long period of massive shortage," WWF conservationist Chairul Saleh told Reuters at the launch of the report.

"This affected migration patterns and reproduction," he said, "It has hurt the population of orangutans there."

A United Nations report in 2002, which raised alarm about the plight of the apes, had projected that most of the habitat suitable for orangutans would be lost by 2032.

In February, UNEP had put the date at 2022.Saleh warned that a combination of rising temperature and deforestation would drive thousands of orangutans out of the forests into villages and plantations to look for food."

It's happening. Already orangutans are invading plantations to eat palm oil seedlings and get killed for it," Saleh said."But what should they do? Their living space is shrinking and there is simply no food."

(Reporting by Adhityani Arga; editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
© Reuters2007All rights reserved

Indonesia starts planting 70 million trees

Indonesia starts planting 79 million trees
Wed Nov 28, 2007 10:47am GMT

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia, which has been losing its forests at a rapid pace in recent years, launched a campaign on Wednesday to plant 79 million trees ahead of next month's U.N. climate change conference in Bali.

"We have been negligent in the past, now we have to get our act together," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was quoted by state news agency Antara as saying as he planted saplings on the outskirts of Jakarta.

The drive is part of a global campaign to plant one billion trees launched at U.N. climate change talks in Nairobi last year.

Forestry ministry officials said 79 million saplings were collected from local governments around the archipelago and they planned to complete the planting in one day.

According to Greenpeace, Indonesia had the fastest pace of deforestation in the world between 2000-2005, with an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches destroyed every hour.
Yudhoyono said that illegal loggers and their financers were "common enemies" and must be brought to justice.

Southeast Asia's biggest economy is also among the world's top three greenhouse gas emitters because of deforestation, peatland degradation, and forest fires, according to a recent report sponsored by the World Bank and Britain's development arm.

Environmental groups are concerned that rapidly expanding palm oil plantations, partly driven by ambitious plans for biofuels, are damaging the country's rainforests.

Participants from 189 countries are expected to gather in Bali in next month to discuss a new deal to fight global warming. The existing pact, the Kyoto Protocol, runs out in 2012.

(Reporting by Ahmad Pathoni; Editing by Sugita Katyal and Sanjeev Miglani)
© Reuters2007All rights reserved.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Police Take Greenpeace Activists into Custody

Police Take Greenpeace Activists into Custody
Published 25.11.2007, 17.52 (updated 25.11.2007, )

Over 30 Greenpeace activists were taken into police custody Sunday for trying to block a ship transporting palm oil to a Neste Oil refinery near Porvoo. Activists aboard rubber boats tried to prevent the tanker from docking. Police said the activists were from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

Neste Oil said demonstrators did not get on the site of the actual refinery.Greenpeace said it's calling for Neste Oil to stop using palm oil in diesel production.

The organisation says palm oil use destroys rainforests in Asia and results in greenhouse gas emissions.According to Jarmo Honkavaara, executive vice-president of Neste Oil, the company has discussed the issue with Greenpeace for quite some time.

He said that both sides agree that measures should be taken to protect the environment. He added that Neste Oil has acted in the most responsible manner possible.The tanker, which was carrying 9,000 tonnes of palm oil, was on its way to Finland from Rotterdam.
CORRECTED: Green group wary of plans for "eco-friendly" palm
Mon Nov 26, 2007

Corrects paragraph 3 in story from Nov. 21 to make clear Friends of the Earths role in the roundtable.
By Niluksi Koswanage

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - An environmental group has threatened to withdraw its support for a plan to certify "eco-friendly" palm oil, accusing the world's two biggest producers of cynically exploiting the initiative.

Friends of the Earth said the Malaysian and Indonesian governments appeared to be using the program, a voluntary industry-led initiative, as an excuse not to legislate to protect rainforests from the rapid expansion of palm-oil estates.

The certification system is set to be unveiled in Kuala Lumpur this week at a meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which groups producers, consumers and environmentalists such as WWF. Friends of the Earth, though not a member, is participating in the event and, according to its Web site, has encouraged UK firms to join the roundtable.

If green groups walk away from the roundtable, it could deal a blow to the industry, which is trying to promote palm oil as a sustainable alternative to petroleum. Demand for palm-based biofuel has sent demand and prices for the commodity soaring.

"The governments in Malaysia and Indonesia use the roundtable as an excuse not to undertake strong legislation to protect their environments and the rights of indigenous people," said Ed Matthews, head of new economics for Friends of the Earth.

"That is beginning to happen now and if that continues to happen over the next year or two, then I think we would be deeply concerned about that and at that point we will have to walk away," he told Reuters last Friday.

Malaysia and Indonesia, home to more than 4 percent of the world's rainforests, produce nearly 85 percent of total palm oil.

Both nations have laws to protect tracts of rainforests against illegal logging, but green groups say penalties should be stiffened and that more rainforest should be locked away. They also say existing laws are not properly enforced.

The Malaysian Timber Council agreed that enforcement needed to be stepped up but rejected the call for stronger legislation.

"Current laws have been more than adequate...," a council spokeswoman said.

Malaysia has 19.3 million hectares of rainforests, peat and mangrove forests, with 78 percent of the area available for production, Forestry Department data showed.

Many of these concessions are on the island of Borneo, in which Malaysia and Indonesia have territories. It is a treasure trove of plant and animal species, including the orangutan.

Malaysian states, such as Sarawak, on Borneo, are allowing palm oil firms to take up these concessions.

"Unfortunately, there are no very strong government standards and enforcement is poor," Friends of the Earth's Matthews said.

"Sarawak is the place where companies are looking to achieve the greatest expansion of oil palm over the next five to 10 years and it is reeling in the money from these concessions."

With palm oil prices hitting record highs, Malaysian planters are looking to expand beyond the 4 million hectares covered by palm-oil estates across Malaysia.

Malaysian palm-oil firms already have nearly 1 million hectares of palm-oil estate in Indonesian Borneo.

Overall, there are around 6 million hectares of estate in Indonesia, and the country's agriculture minister expects this area to expand by about 300,000 hectares per annum.

Malaysia is setting up an institute to probe allegations that palm-oil firms are also destroying peatlands which, with rainforests, are important in countering global warming.

"If by converting peat soil into palm plantations it will cause enormous emissions of carbon dioxide, then we will be taking proactive steps to limit peatlands usage but we have to be certain," Malaysian Commodities Minister Peter Chin said on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral)
(Editing by Mark Bendeich and Ben Tan)

Sustainable palm oil system soon

Monday November 26, 2007

Sustainable palm oil system soon

By HANIM ADNAN Star Online, Malaysia

IT will be interesting to gauge global players' acceptance of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil's (RSPO) certified sustainability palm oil (CSPO) system, to be launched in the first quarter 2008.

The first ever-certified system for palm oil in the world is set to assure consumers that the products purchased come from environmentally friendly, socially responsible sources and suppliers.

Some quarters, however, have doubts on CSPO given a decade-long criticism from various groups, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from developed consuming nations like the United States and Europe.

Can CSPO effectively clear accusations by NGOs that palm oil-producing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are destroying rainforests to cultivate oil palm? They claimed that this had resulted in climate changes and endangered wildlife habitats, particularly the orang utans.
Malaysia and Indonesia currently produce 85% of the world's total palm oil output.

In Europe, top supermarket Sainsbury pledges to use sustainable palm oil by mid-2008, while Body Shop was the first top cosmetic retailer to introduce sustainable palm oil into the global beauty industry.

For Malaysia, a majority of its big plantation groups are proud members of the RSPO, which recognises the importance of CSPO.

Many are confident to be audited, believing they meet the criteria set by RSPO to get the CSPO certification.

One such company is Synergy Drive Bhd, the merged entity of Sime Darby Bhd, Golden Hope Plantations Bhd and Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd.

President and chief executive Datuk Seri Ahmad Zubir Murshid said: “As an industry, we have made some progress in responding to sustainability debate.”

In Malaysia, “zero burning” has been implemented and monitored since 1990s and integrated pest management is widespread.

Internationally, he said, Malaysia initiated and developed the RSPO principles and criteria that are committed to environmental, social and economic sustainability.

For Synergy Drive, Zubir said the combination of experience, strengths, and natural advantages of the three groups had created greater value to its stakeholders.

“Economies of scale will enable us to develop sound cultivation and production methods, traceability and food safety,” he added.

He pointed out that the group's plantation unit operated across the entire value chain, both upstream (i.e. sourcing) and downstream (i.e. processing).

“We are developing sustainable practices on the plantation as well as at the mill and in the processing plants in our oils and fats division,” he added.

Upstream, Synergy Drive is responsible for the cultivation and management of 543,000ha of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

This accounted for 2.1 million tonnes of CPO per year, contributing about 43% to the group’s operating profits for the financial year ended June 30, 2007.

“With the benefits of size come the responsibilities. Having 543,000ha of oil palm plantations makes Synergy Drive the leading palm oil producer in the world,” he noted.

Zubir said over the past two years, the group had participated actively in the RSPO trials to identify issues and challenges in implementing the agreed principles and criteria for the sustainable production of palm oil.

“A certified sustainable palm oil doesn’t just require sustainable practices but also traceability to prove it,” he said.

He said Synergy Drive had been working on tracking and tracing processes to identify the origin of sustainable palm oil right down to the plantation and the mill.

To date, the group has carried out biodiversity studies on 60,000ha of its plantations.
Apart from focusing on sustainable practices, Synergy Drive also enhances conservation outside the plantation.

This month, the group signed an agreement to work with the Malaysian Nature Society on a new conservation project at the Belum-Temenggor forest, called the The Hornbill Project.
Zubir noted: “Although we have done a lot in this field, we know that there is still more to do as we do not have all the answers.”

He said complacency should not be allowed to set in.
“Synergy Drive will continually monitor, review and improve our sustainability initiatives. And in developing a sustainable future, we will need to be open and transparent,” he added.
Zubir also cautioned on the challenging times ahead.

“All sectors must work together – across borders, and between organisations and individuals.
“We encourage more research funding from our government and corporate bodies. And we must share the outcomes of that research in order to deliver our objectives efficiently,” he said.

Astra to increase size of oil palm plantations

Astra to increase size of oil palm plantations

By Woro Widya Utami and Arijit Ghosh Bloomberg News
Published: November 25, 2007

JAKARTA: Astra Agro Lestari, the biggest agricultural company by market value in Indonesia, will increase the size of its oil palm plantations by 13 percent to meet demand from India and China and provide for the use of palm oil as an alternate fuel.

The company will add 30,000 hectares, or 74,132 acres, of oil palm plantations in Aceh, East Kalimantan Province, and on Sulawesi Island next year, the company's president director, Widya Wiryawan, said last week.

Astra Agro had 228,000 hectares of plantations for the vegetable oil at the end of October.
Companies increasingly use palm oil to make biodiesel and reduce their dependency on crude oil, driving up prices of the product by 66 percent in the past 12 months.

During the first nine months of this year, India and China imported the equivalent of 55 percent of output last year in Indonesia, the largest producer in the world of palm oil.

"We just can't fulfill demand," Wiryawan said. "Demand will increase in the future and that's why the company plans to acquire more land."

Palm oil purchases by India from Indonesia rose 32 percent to 2.62 million tons in the January-to-September period, while the amount bought by China increased 1 percent to 3.9 million tons.
Palm oil for February delivery, the most-active contract, rose 14 ringgit, or 0.5 percent, to 3,006 ringgit, or $894, a ton on the Malaysia Derivatives Exchange last week.

Prices may climb to as high as $1,000 a ton next year because of increasing demand and a supply shortfall, Derom Bangun, the head of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, said Nov. 8.
Biofuel made from vegetable oils including palm oil is added to fossil fuels, replacing between 5 percent and 20 percent of the content.

The United States, Brazil, the EU and Malaysia are among those with mandated biofuel blend targets using palm, soybean and rapeseed oils.

"Rising yields from maturing plants and aggressive expansion program should ensure robust future growth" for Astra Agro, Sarina Lesmina, an analyst with Macquarie in Jakarta, wrote in a note dated Friday. Lesmina has an "outperform" recommendation on the stock.

Astra Agro shares rose 3.5 percent to close at 21,950 rupiah Friday, taking gains this year to 74 percent. The Jakarta Composite index advanced 43 percent during the period.

Higher prices helped Astra Agro almost triple profit to a record in the third quarter, even as a drought led to a 5.9 percent production decline in the first 10 months of the year. Net income rose to 603.34 billion rupiah, or $64 million, from 208.38 billion rupiah, according to figures provided by the company.

Annual profit may double to 1.64 trillion rupiah, according to the average of 22 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg, from 787.3 billion rupiah last year. Astra Agro's crude palm oil output fell to 730,000 tons in the first 10 months, from 776,000 tons a year earlier, Wiryawan said.

He expects increased rainfall in November and December to help the company meet its target for vegetable oil production of 920,000 tons this year, a 0.2 percent increase.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Natives: Are we the problem, Mr. Minister?

Natives: Are we the problem, Mr Minister?

Fauwaz Abdul AzizNov 23, 07 5:52pm

Sarawak’s Dayak Ibans are wondering whether their cultivation of small plots of oil palm is the problem hindering the cultivation and production of certified sustainable palm oil.

As they see it, they are not the ones ‘displacing indigenous communities from their land, committing violence against and persecuting them and trampling on their customary rights’.

Therefore, it was to their wonder when Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui reportedly expressed concern yesterday that small farmers would not meet the standards required by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) criteria for sustainable palm oil production.

“These farmers must be enabled and be provided with the skills and knowledge to comply with the criteria,” he said in his keynote address at the closing ceremony of the Fifth Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil in Kuala Lumpur.

To qualify for the RSPO certification label, palm oil companies must fulfill standards and requirements pertaining to environmental conservation, social development, labour practices, land tenure and human rights. 'Dashed our hopes' Noting the irony of Chin singling out rural small holders while large palm oil companies - backed by the Sarawak government - violated all legal, environmental and social norms, the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) said the Sarawak-born minister had dashed their hopes.

“We had high hopes for him that he will try to solve the issue of local communities in Sarawak,” said Sadia secretary-general Nicholas Mujah at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

“I don’t think his statement was pleasant for us,” he added. Mujah said the expansion of the palm oil industry in recent years, particularly in Sarawak, had seen a growing number of conflicts between the large palm oil industry players and the Dayak people who make up 60 percent of the state’s 2.2 million indigenous peoples.

Among those experiencing this, Kampung Wawasan village chief Rajang Sangalang said he himself had taken up the state government’s call for indigenous communities to plant oil palm trees instead of leaving their lands idle.

However, his small village - consisting of about 100 people and located about 50 km from Miri - soon found that it was up against a large company that had suddenly claimed ownership of their land and was seeking to set up a 2,145-hectare oil palm plantation.

Despite evidence that Sangalang and his fellow villagers had lived and worked on the land for generations, the state government had leased the company to set up its plantation for 60 years. Graves desecrated Meanwhile, Sangalang said contractors for the company have not only torn up the palm trees previously planted by the villagers but also dug up the graves of their forefathers and desecrated other places considered sacred by the community.

Out of the 50 longhouse villages on the land coveted by the company, three of the villages - including Sangalang’s - have taken the company to court. For this, Sangalang claimed that the local police are persecuting him and his family. On Sept 12, 2007, notices were served on the villagers of Kampung Wawasan for their eviction and the demolition of their houses.

On Nov 6, Sangalang was arrested and detained overnight at the local police station. To this day, neither he nor the officers at the police station know why exactly orders were issued for his arrest. “The police officers asked me, ‘What did you do wrong?’ So I told them, ‘I don’t know. What did I do?” said Sangalang. Following his arrest, another letter arrived from Kuching warning him against his refusal to abide by a court injunction to vacate the land.

“He did not even know there was an injunction from the court. We had to rush to find him a lawyer to help him on the matter,” Mujah explained. Mujah also pointed out that from the 163 disputes currently pending in Sarawak courts over native customary rights, more than 40 involve large oil palm developers. C

ommenting on this, rights group Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez said Sarawak was becoming a “low-intensity conflict zone” due to the rising number of such disputes and the rising stakes involved caused by the boom in prices for crude palm oil in the international markets. “The state is in collusion with the palm oil industry and they are acting with impunity... If matters escalate, it will lead to a considerable rise in the state of tensions,” said Fernandez, who was instrumental in the formulation of the RSPO criteria for sustainable palm oil certification.

Fernandez said a monitoring and auditing mechanism will be set up to ensure adherence to the RSPO certification. Those companies that fail the audits will not qualify for the RSPO certification, she added.

The biofuel that spells annihilation for Indonesia's wilderness

The biofuel that spells annihilation for Indonesia's wilderness

Stephen Fitzpatrick November 24, 2007 The Australian

ELDERLY ethnic Dayak farmer Hussin sits on the raised timber floor of his home, a shack on 6ha of mixed forest, itself nestled in thousands of hectares of oil palm plantation.Hussin ("I'm probably 65 or 70, I'd say") and his wife, Barnian, are holdouts against the relentless march of Indonesia's new boom crop: they settled their little plot in Central Kalimantan just before the surrounding forest's annihilation a year ago.

Each year, Indonesia loses an estimated two million of its 90 million hectares of rainforest, much of it to palm oil developments in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Riau, Sulawesi and Papua.

While official policy is to only allow new plantations on the vast stretches of already degraded forest land from earlier timber booms, in reality it's far cheaper to convert virgin rainforest for the extra profit the timber attracts, which then helps defray the cost of starting oil palm crops.

The company wants him out: Hussin says visiting agents have offered Rp425,000 (a little more than $50) a hectare for his land, perched only a few kilometres from the largely forest-surrounded Lake Sembuluh. Given that crude palm oil prices are expected to hit $US1000 ($1140) a tonne soon and are increasingly being linked to the spectacular rise in fossil-based crude oil prices, Hussin, who doesn't exactly watch the world markets, gets the feeling he probably is being duped.

"I don't want to sell it. I want to think of my grandchildren's welfare first," he says, but then admits that the company men don't bother him too much. "They know they can't take it from me."

In many parts of densely forested Indonesia, land ownership is a fluid thing: ask a Dayak how far his land extends, people say, and he'll point casually in each direction without even changing his gaze, repeating the indigenous language claim: "Ayung kuh" (it's all mine).

Native concepts of land ownership, which still have the strength of law in those parts of Indonesia where they can be proved, emphasise collective over individual property rights.

Thus Hussin was able to establish the patch on which he now squats, square-jawed and determined, with little concern that global capital will bulldoze him and his nonexistent ownership papers, for the time being at least.

But Hussin and many other indigenous Indonesians, dotted in hidden corners of plantations across the archipelago, face increasing pressure as investors pour into the palm oil industry.The contradictions of palm oil production are not lost on its critics: fuelled by the hunt for fossil fuel alternatives in a bid to win green credentials, Indonesia is rapidly giving away its pristine rainforest and in the process making itself a world leader in carbon emissions.

It's also threatening endangered species and losing valuable traditional medicine knowledge. But big corporations and investors are taking a huge punt on the industry, to which Indonesia and Malaysia contribute more than 80 per cent of the world's supply of about 30 million tonnes, a figure anticipated to double by 2020.

In Indonesia's case, many of the companies involved are still associated with the same figures who presided over corrupt deforestation policies during the era of former president Suharto, deposed in 1998.

"There is a four million tonne per year growth in demand in the vegetable oils industry generally and, unfortunately, no other countries in the world can fulfil it as we can," Indonesian palm oil association chairman Derom Bangun says. As well as demand from the biofuel boom, about 10 per cent of cosmetics, snack foods and other consumer items on supermarket shelves are estimated to rely on palm oil as an ingredient.

Bangun presided over this week's Kuala Lumpur round table on sustainable palm oil production that agreed to a set of standards that would try to limit the environmental damage - including to endangered fauna such as orang-utans, elephants and tigers - caused by the rush.

In addition to primary producers, round table members include retailers such as British cosmetics chain the Body Shop and conservation watchdog the World Wide Fund for Nature. However, even the toughest standards require adherence and, given the industry's reliance on self-regulation, there are grave doubts about whether this can work.

Danish former flight attendant Lona Droscher-Nielsen, who eight years ago established an orang-utan rescue centre near the Central Kalimantan capital, Palangkaraya, likens Indonesia's forest destruction ahead of the plantation wave to the effect of a tsunami.

"The Indonesian Government says it is concerned about a perception in the international community that palm oil is destroying the forests, and that this is not true," says a frustrated Droscher-Nielsen. "We simply have to show them that it is."

The further nexus between wild animals and palm oil becomes clear when beasts driven from their natural habitat wash up lost and hungry in denuded areas or even stage plantation foraging raids that meet with deadly human retaliation.

Many palm oil operations, the most successful of which have on-site housing, schools and health clinics as well as oil processing plants and heavy engineering divisions for opening up new crop land, have also established specialised "pest-hunting" units to deal with the threat to their crops.

They deny these are intended to eradicate endangered species, but several workers suggest otherwise to Inquirer. One, a Javanese migrant labourer named Rudianto living in quarters on a several thousand hectare operation near Sembuluh village, says that when he arrived a year ago, "there used to be lots of orang-utans ... but now it's getting a lot better. They've mostly been hunted out."

Rudianto admits he once helped spear an orang-utan that had encroached on plantation land, although when quizzed on the detail he recants and says: "No, actually it was just tied up and taken away."

Protection of wildlife, while on the Indonesian Government's agenda, is partly hampered by resource allocation and partly by the attitude that progress requires sacrifice. As one forestry official says: "I am a conservationist, but I must tell you I am not a conservative."

The pithy summing up of policy comes from Mega Hariyanto, a measured and thoughtful middle-aged Javanese with long experience in the field who has recently arrived in Palangkaraya to head up the Forestry Department's conservation section there. He is responsible for tackling illegal logging and protecting endangered species, with a staff that includes armed rapid response squads who can rappel into dense forest from helicopters. But, he warns, all factors must be taken into account and he insists that "things are nowhere near as bad as they used to be since all parties started working more closely together".

"Conservation is part of development, but it is not the most important part. Conservation must be integrated into development," Hariyanto explains. "There are no formulas in life that are perfect for all situations. All we can do is deal with each circumstance as it comes."

Friday, 23 November 2007

Lawyers call for unity against illegal logging

Lawyers call for unity against illegal logging

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta: 23rd Nov. 2007

Bewildering Indonesian forestry regulations and chaotic inter-departmental coordination have contributed to the government's inability to handle illegal logging cases, experts say.

Lawyer Bambang Widjojanto said there were at least three core issues related to illegal logging; a lack of political will, unclear licensing procedures and insufficient control measures.

He said the government's political will was needed in order to harmonize the laws and coordinate the institutions related to forestry.

"The conflicting Indonesian laws on forestry should be resolved. Some of the laws on deforestation and illegal logging include the Forestry Law, the Conservation Law and the Corruption Law," Bambang said in a discussion Thursday on illegal logging cases in Indonesia.
The conflict among these laws has resulted in the controversy surrounding how a license to utilize forest areas should be issued, thus providing a loophole for illegal loggers.

"The main grounds for almost every court decision to release illegal logging suspects has been because the suspects already had licenses to manage particular forest areas, including taking timber from those areas. Or, they had already applied for licenses but had not received them," Bambang said.

He added, however, it was actually possible to indict license holders with the existing criminal laws.

"Even though they have licenses, they can still be charged under criminal laws, especially if they cause environmental damage."

Bambang said license violations were only seen as procedural or administrative breaches, not criminal acts, even though the violations caused negative impacts, such as triggering floods, landslides or other disasters.

Commenting on this issue, two other law experts -- Sulaiman Sembiring and Rudy Satrio -- agreed the inability of Indonesian law enforcers to effectively apply the law provided opportunities for illegal loggers in the country.

"No matter how many laws a country has, the conditions will never change if law enforcement is weak," said Sulaiman, an environmental law expert.

He said the factors that needed improvement included the quality of the state apparatus, the culture of society and law enforcement infrastructure.

Rudy said in this era of autonomy, it has become harder for the central government to control its apparatus in the regions, particularly those with forest-based economies.

"Thus, the Forestry Ministry needs to strengthen its local offices in the regions," said Rudy, a criminal law expert from the University of Indonesia.

Both experts agreed there was a need to categorize forestry crime as a transnational crime.
"Usually, the demand for timber comes from foreign buyers. Almost all illegal timber is sold outside of Indonesia," Bambang said.

"Still, in this case, we first need to resolve the conflicting regulations and strengthen our inter-departmental coordination. Only then will we be ready to bring this case to the international level." (uwi)

Sustaining palm oil markets

Sustaining palm oil markets
since its first meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil yesterday unveiled a certification system which will see certified palm oil hit the markets in the first quarter of next year.

By Rupa Damodaran
Published: 2007/11/23 Business Online

DESCRIBED as a benchmark event, the Fifth Roundtable Meeting on Sustainable Palm Oil or RT5 attracted a lot of interest globally – from legislators in Europe to the grocery shopper in the UK right down to the simple smallholder eking out a living in a small kampung.

Now the challenge is to implement the standard for the commodity — to ensure mechanisms to move the RSPO-Certified Sustainable Palm Oil through the supply chain which will enable consumers to tell the difference between certified and non-certified palm oil.

The roundtable concept was introduced to ensure equal rights to the stakeholders who come from the seven sectors of the industry – growers, processors and traders, consumer goods, manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors and environmental and social NGOs.

As palm oil finds its way into food, soaps, detergents, cosmetics, plastics and now, as a renewable alternative to fossil fuel or biofuel, it has raised concerns and expectations, and attracted the scrutiny of all these stakeholders within the supply chain.

Some growers have proven during the trial implementation over the past one-and-a-half years that elements in principles and criteria of sustainability can be demonstrated in the plantations and oil mills.

Sustainability was simplified to cover people, planet and profits, and the eight principles and 39 criteria that were developed in the RSPO , engulfs all three pillars.

IOI Corporation, one of seven volunteer companies that has been constantly improving its CPO yield per ha to its current 5.71 tonnes per ha (way above the national average of 3.93 tonnes per ha), said there must be policies, plans, standard operating procedures, communication, implementation and monitoring systems to be successful in sustainable palm oil.

Sustainable palm oil engulfs good agricultural practices, environmental protection and social responsibility, and IOI has shown that this can be done by improving the diesel usage for mini tractors in mechanised fresh fruit bunches collection.

ProForest, the independent consultant which developed the criteria, described the development of the certification as a major achievement and compared favourably with the specification scheme of other sectors.

Its director Neil Judd said the key is the implementation, and RSPO is now at the start of that process.

“It will be critical for RSPO to ensure that the quality of audit matches the rigour in the document,” he said, adding that the initial stages are critical in establishing the credibility of the certificates.

With the pent-up demand for certified palm oil especially in Europe, he is expecting a massive rush for certification applications. People who can supply in the early stages are going to have a lot of buyers for sure, he says.

“With RSPO, it is critical to ensure that smallholders are not marginalised and the obvious route for independent smallholders to be certified is through group accreditation scheme,” Judd added.

With group certification, the auditors can visit a small sample of growers for which the total cost can be shared. A lot of certification schemes have used the approach, as seen in other commodities such as coffee, timber and cocoa.

Proforest, which has previously worked with timber, has also embarked on a certification process for soya.

RSPO president Dr Jan-Kees Vis, meanwhile, said the palm oil supply chain is too complicated to expect an answer to every problem, and he says one must expect to find gaps in the system as the certification is implemented.

“It is the best framework we could devise in the time we had, with the resources we had available,” he said.

He said it is unrealistic to expect the RSPO capable of stopping deforestation, ending rural poverty and providing access for palm oil to European energy markets or to save the orang utan.

As a voluntary business-to-business initiative, it cannot expect to dictate change, although Vis said the executive board has agreed to develop close ties with governments in order to embed in legislation.

This includes areas like land use policies to steer palm oil expansion away from High Conservation Value Forest and towards deforested areas, and legal frameworks to safeguard land titles and traditional land use.

Among the challenges identified by RSPO going forward is managing the expectations of the many stakeholders with their varied agenda and manage a credible certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). Continuous engagement is necessary to address NGO criticisms and climate change issues such as greenhouse gases and peatlands (carbon dioxide emissions).

Challenges still remain as it is not only the question of resistance to change, but there are also cost implications to look out for.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Sainsbury’s pledges to use sustainable palm oil to protect endangered habitats

November 21, 2007

Sainsbury’s pledges to use sustainable palm oil to protect endangered habitats

Sainsbury's has announced that the palm oil used in it's own brand food will now come from certified sustainable sources. The first food on UK supermarket shelves to contain certified sustainable palm oil will be Sainsbury's Basics Fish Fingers that will convert by May 2008.

This is another UK first for Sainsbury's, once again showing it's leadership in responsible sourcing, and means that nearly eight million fish fingers will contain certified sustainable palm oil making an everyday food more ethical. The fish fingers are also Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) approved.

Increased demand for palm oil is potentially an environmental catastrophe impacting on climate change, deforestation, the habitats of orangutans, as well as local communities.

Also, by July 2008 Sainsbury's will be the first supermarket to sell soap that contains certified sustainable palm oil. This is approximately three million bars every year.

Providing honest and transparent labelling for its customers, Sainsbury's will also be the first supermarket to label the use of palm oil in all its food. Labelling will be completed on its fresh and chilled food by July 2008.

This news comes as the annual fifth Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) conference takes place in Malaysia this week. Known as RT5, the conference will involve key growers, processors, manufacturers, retailers and policy makers who are meeting to discuss standards for the certification and sourcing of sustainable palm oil.

Judith Batchelar, Director of Sainsbury's brand, said: "From soap to biscuits, palm oil is in thousands of everyday food and beauty items wherever you shop.

Rather than banning the use of palm oil, we want to find a sustainable solution that will stop deforestation while continuing to support the communities that rely on its production.

Green group wary of plans for "eco-friendly" palm

Green group wary of plans for "eco-friendly" palm

Wed Nov 21, 2007 Reuters

By Niluksi KoswanageKUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 (Reuters) - An environmental group has threatened to withdraw its support for a plan to certify "eco-friendly" palm oil, accusing the world's two biggest producers of cynically exploiting the initiative.Friends of the Earth said the Malaysian and Indonesian governments appeared to be using the programme, a voluntary industry-led initiative, as an excuse not to legislate to protect rainforests from the rapid expansion of palm-oil estates.

The certification system is set to be unveiled in Kuala Lumpur this week at a meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which groups producers, consumers and green groups such as Friends of the Earth and WWF.

If green groups walk out of the roundtable, it could deal a blow to the industry, which is trying to promote palm oil as a sustainable alternative to petroleum. Demand for palm-based biofuel has sent demand and prices for the commodity soaring.

"The governments in Malaysia and Indonesia use the roundtable as an excuse not to undertake strong legislation to protect their environments and the rights of indigenous people," said Ed Matthews, head of new economics for Friends of the Earth.

"That is beginning to happen now and if that continues to happen over the next year or two, then I think we would be deeply concerned about that and at that point we will have to walk away," he told Reuters last Friday.

Malaysia and Indonesia, home to more than 4 percent of the world's rainforests, produce nearly 85 percent of total palm oil.

Both nations have laws to protect tracts of rainforests against illegal logging, but green groups say penalties should be stiffened and that more rainforest should be locked away.

They also say existing laws are not properly enforced.The Malaysian Timber Council agreed that enforcement needed to be stepped up but rejected the call for stronger legislation."Current laws have been more than adequate...," a council spokeswoman said.

Malaysia has 19.3 million hectares of rainforests, peat and mangrove forests, with 78 percent of the area available for production, Forestry Department data showed.Many of these concessions are on the island of Borneo, in which Malaysia and Indonesia have territories.

It is a treasure trove of plant and animal species, including the orangutan.Malaysian states, such as Sarawak, on Borneo, are allowing palm oil firms to take up these concessions."Unfortunately, there are no very strong government standards and enforcement is poor," Friends of the Earth's Matthews said.

"Sarawak is the place where companies are looking to achieve the greatest expansion of oil palm over the next five to 10 years and it is reeling in the money from these concessions.

"With palm oil prices hitting record highs, Malaysian planters are looking to expand beyond the 4 million hectares covered by palm-oil estates across Malaysia.Malaysian palm-oil firms already have nearly 1 million hectares of palm-oil estate in Indonesian Borneo.

Overall, there are around 6 million hectares of estate in Indonesia, and the country's agriculture minister expects this area to expand by about 300,000 hectares per annum.

Malaysia is setting up an institute to probe allegations that palm-oil firms are also destroying peatlands which, with rainforests, are important in countering global warming.

"If by converting peat soil into palm plantations it will cause enormous emissions of carbon dioxide, then we will be taking proactive steps to limit peatlands usage but we have to be certain," Malaysian Commodities Minister Peter Chin said on Friday. (Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral) (Editing by Mark Bendeich and Ben Tan)

Sainsbury's bans palm oil from “unsustainable” sources

For overseas recipients of my emails, Sainsburys are the third largest supermarket company
in the UK.

I have been saying all along that what they have just announced, could be achieved by all companies. What has brought this about is doubtles the campaign reports, tens of thousands of postcards, countless emails and a lot of negative press. i.e. People Power.

Sainsbury's are talking about their all-powerful own label brands. As these are made for them by Unilever etc, the message will be getting back to Malaysia, Indonesia etc.



21 Nov 2007
Sainsbury's bans palm oil from “unsustainable” sources

The supermarket group announced today that all palm oil used in its own-brand food would now come from certified sustainable sources.

Sainsbury’s Basics Fish Fingers will be the first to contain certified sustainable palm oil, converting by May 2008.

The company said: “Increased demand for palm oil is potentially an environmental catastrophe, impacting on climate change, deforestation, the habitats of orang-utans, as well as local communities.”

By July 2008 Sainsbury’s soap will switch to sustainable palm oil, amounting to some three million bars a year.

Sainsbury’s will also label the use of palm oil in all its food, completing labelling on its fresh and chilled food by July 2008.

Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s brand, said: “From soap to biscuits, palm oil is in thousands of everyday food and beauty items wherever you shop. Rather than banning the use of palm oil, we want to find a sustainable solution that will stop deforestation while continuing to support the communities that rely on its production.”

Adam Harrison, senior policy officer, food and agriculture, WWF, said: "We welcome Sainsbury's move to address the serious impacts of palm oil demand and hope that their actions will inspire others to follow suit and commit to using only Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified palm oil. All retailers need to take action on palm oil and on their other major environmental impacts.”

Indonesia pins hopes on forests at Bali meeting

Indonesia pins hopes on forests at Bali meeting

Tue Nov 20, 2007

By Sugita Katyal.. ReutersJAKARTA, Nov 21 (Reuters)

For years, Indonesia has made money by chopping down its forests. Now it wants to earn billions by preserving what is left.The huge archipelago, with about 10 percent of the world's tropical rainforests, is pinning its hopes on next month's U.N. climate talks in Bali.

The government is backing a scheme that aims to make emission cuts from forests eligible for carbon trading.Experts estimate Indonesia could earn more than $13 billion by preserving its forests if the carbon trading plan gets support in Bali.About 190 countries will gather on the Indonesian resort island to try to hammer out a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, a global pact aimed at fighting global warming.

"Carbon will be the new valuta (currency)," Marcel Silvius, senior programme manager of Wetlands International, told Reuters."In the coming years we may see investments in millions, in the next decade it may be hundreds of millions.

"Indonesia's forests are a massive natural store of carbon, but environmentalists say rampant cutting and burning of trees to feed the pulp, timber and palm oil sectors has made the country the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Indonesia's forests, a treasure trove of plant and animal species including the threatened orangutan, emit a staggering 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, according to a report sponsored by the World Bank and British development agency.

Deforestation is estimated to contribute 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions -- more than all the emissions of the world's cars, trucks, trains and airplanes combined.

Environmental groups say that protecting tropical forests is the most direct and fastest way to mitigate some of the impact of climate change.

"Trade in palm oil by some of the world's food giants and commodity traders is helping to detonate a climate bomb in Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands," global environmental group Greenpeace said in a recent report titled "How the Palm Oil Industry is Cooking the Climate".TROPICAL RAINFORESTSI ndonesia is one of the few countries that still has swathes of tropical rainforests left.

Even though it has lost an estimated 70 percent of its original frontier forest, it still has a total forest area of more than 225 million acres (91 million hectares), with a host of exotic plants and animals waiting to be discovered.

The richest forests are found in Borneo -- the world's third-largest island shared among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei -- which is home to about 2,000 types of trees, more than 350 species of birds and 210 mammal species.

Many animals such as pygmy elephants, orangutans as well as the clouded leopard, the sun bear and the Bornean gibbon top the list of Borneo's endangered species.Charles Darwin described Borneo as "one great untidy luxuriant hothouse made by nature for herself".

But environmentalists say the island is being stripped by illegal logging, slash-and-burn farming and creation of vast oil palm plantations.Greenpeace estimates Indonesia had the world's fastest rate of deforestation between 2000-2005, losing the equivalent of 300 soccer pitches every hour.

There is no clear estimate of Indonesia's current deforestation rate, but figures range between 2.5 million and 3.5 million hectares a year.'HEADING FOR THE WATERFALL'"We're in a canoe heading for the waterfall," Frances Seymour, director-general of the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said."Current rates of deforestation, whether it is here in Indonesia or anywhere else in the world, are unsustainable and need to be slowed."

During the Bali conference, participants will hear a report on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation (RED) -- a new scheme that aims to make emission cuts from forest areas eligible for global carbon trading.

Conservation and research experts have said deforestation rates have dropped significantly after the Indonesian government's recent moves to implement tough measures on illegal logging and a new law prohibiting the use of fire to clear land.But Indonesia says it must be given incentives, including a payout of $5-$20 per hectare, to preserve its forests.

"We want an appreciation of the forest cover that we have, because in maintaining it, we want to lobby for a compensation for that," Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar told Reuters in a recent interview. "The world will benefit very much if the hundreds of millions of forests all over the world, not just Indonesia, will be restored. And for that the world will be happy to pay."
He did not say how Indonesia, where corruption is rife and law enforcement is often lax, could ensure the full protection of its forests under such a scheme.

Jakarta has being trying to mobilise nations with most of the world's tropical rainforests -- Brazil, Cameroon, Congo, Costa Rica, Gabon, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea -- ahead of the talks.

"Carbon is the big hope," Ian Kosasih, director of the WWF's forest programme in Jakarta, told Reuters, referring to carbon trading as the answer to saving Indonesia's forests."Eighty percent of carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and 20 percent from land use. But in Indonesia, the figure is opposite, which relates to how important forests are to carbon emissions," he said.

(Additional reporting by Adhityani Arga; editing by Ed Davies and David Fogarty)

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Why Malaysia Wants to Be Paid for Staying Green

Why Malaysia Wants to Be Paid for Staying Green: Andy Mukherjee
By Andy Mukherjee

Nov. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Malaysia, the world's No. 1 exporter of tropical wood, is lucky to have become a fairly prosperous country while preserving a substantial part of its forests.

With annual per capita income in excess of $5,500 and three-fifths of its land still covered by forests, Malaysia is in a better position to save its environment from the pressures of abject poverty than, say, Papua New Guinea, where the average income is $770.

Even so, the economic incentive to cut down trees has risen of late: The same Windsor chair that Malaysia exported for $10 between 1997 and 2005 now fetches it $50, according to the International Tropical Timber Organization in Yokohama, Japan.

There's also intense pressure to clear land for plantations. Crude palm-oil futures prices have jumped fourfold since May 2001 because of a growing biofuel craze.

As a partial compensation for the forgone economic opportunity, Malaysia is now pressing a claim on the rest of the world. And it isn't alone.

Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Colombia, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Papua New Guinea have come together as a group to ensure that conservation of forests is suitably rewarded in any new global agreement on climate change. The Kyoto Protocol, which is the existing accord, expires in 2012.

``It has to be recognized that tropical forests are making an important contribution to the environment,'' says Shamsudin Ibrahim, a senior director at the state-sponsored Forest Research Institute Malaysia. ``There must be incentives for countries to avoid deforestation.''
Carbon Sink

Malaysia is going to push the agenda at the crucial climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia, next month, Shamsuddin said.

Forest ecosystems, especially in the tropics, are a veritable carbon sink: they hold more of the stuff than there is in the earth's atmosphere. And yet, the fight against global warming is, for some perverse reason, promoting ethanol at the expense of trees.

This needs to change.
The so-called Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol does allow the countries that have binding commitments to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions to buy some of these improvements from forestry projects in the developing world.

There is a catch, though: It's possible to plant trees on barren land and claim carbon credits, but only if the area has been devoid of green cover for at least 50 years. Reforestation is also rewarded, provided the original forest was destroyed before 1990.

No Incentives
There is no incentive for preserving what still exists.
That's a serious handicap. (Provided one believes that the problem of global warming is manmade; there are many reasonable people, including Czech President Vaclav Klaus who don't think the evidence is strong enough to draw such a conclusion.)

Between 1990 and 2005, the world lost 13 million hectares of forests every year. In countries such as Indonesia, this loss is cited as the main cause of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Putting an economic value on averted deforestation could go a long way toward saving the last tropical tree in the world from being turned into a tabletop. The questions that have yet to be answered relate mostly to practicality and prevention of fraud:

-- How does one ensure that the carbon sequestered in trees remains trapped for a reasonable length of time, say 100 years?
-- What should be the starting year against which improvements will be measured?
-- How does one prevent leakages in the carbon sink due to forest fires and logging?
-- What happens if trees saved in one part of the world are cut in another, resulting in no net improvement in the environment?

Rule of Law
There are other problems.
Apart from discouraging the much-needed clean-energy projects in developing countries, an oversupply of carbon credits through forestry programs might make developed countries complacent about reducing their own emissions.

Procedural challenges, daunting as they are, don't detract from the importance of preserving tropical forests. A more serious hurdle might be legal hassles.

Rule of law, which is central to establishing the ownership rights of any asset, will be absolutely critical when applied to something as intangible as averted deforestation.

The World Bank ranks Malaysia's investor-protection standards higher than what minority shareholders can expect in the U.K. or the U.S. While that somewhat blithe assessment may be a source of comfort to global investors who buy shares in a company trading on the stock exchange in Kuala Lumpur, it may not be enough to motivate them to buy emission credits in the jungles of Sarawak. Let's not even talk about bringing market forces to the tropical forests of Congo or Gabon.

Those designing a trading arrangement in forest conservation will have to find a way to create a reasonably secure property-right regime. And that's easier said than done.

(Andy Mukherjee is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)