Monday, 9 November 2009

The RSPO — Supporting rainforest destruction and climate change

The Malaysian Insider

The RSPO — Supporting rainforest destruction and climate change — Bustar Maitar

NOV 9 — Last week the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) met in Kuala Lumpur to continue its work promoting “sustainable” palm oil. While the RSPO markets itself as the solution to the environmental and social problems of the oil palm industry, it is, in practice, failing in its mission.

Once again a number of influential palm oil producers, like Sinar Mas, blocked the introduction of environmental safeguards, this time a Greenhouse Gas (GHG), standard that would dramatically reduce climate emissions by protecting the carbon rich forests and peat lands of Indonesia and Malaysia. Instead, the RSPO agreed to continue talking about developing a standard for another year, whilst the growers carry on with business as usual under the flag of RSPO. Producers are also now only willing to develop a voluntary rather than a mandatory standard, dealing another huge blow to the credibility of the Roundtable.

Major companies buying palm oil, like Unilever and Nestlé, want to rely on the RSPO to tackle the issue of deforestation for palm oil. By committing to purchasing “sustainable” palm oil they hope to disassociate themselves from the problems of this industry. However the theory is not working in practice as they purchase from RSPO members like Sinar Mas who are involved with forest and peat land clearance all over Indonesia.

Such expansion into carbon and wildlife rich forests is taking place at the same time that the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) and GAPKI, the Indonesian palm oil association, are aggressively promoting new markets for “sustainable” palm oil. This includes increasingly wild claims that palm oil provides a climate friendly solution to carbon intensive fossil fuels, in transport, biofuels and energy production. This absolutely ignores the massive emissions from deforestation connected to the palm oil and other sectors, which cause about one fifth of global emissions.

Whilst happy to peddle the myth that palm oil as biofuel is good for the climate, the same associations and their member companies are less happy about having to prove their claims. Instead, producers are trying to weaken existing RSPO standards and are successfully blocking the introduction of a strong greenhouse gas standard, a change that in theory would be beneficial for the climate.

The industry associations have been claiming that changes to the RSPO would violate a nation’s sovereign right to clear forests, claiming that proposals are “protectionist” measures to stop the growth of the sector. However the only reason the RSPO has not agreed to a strong greenhouse gas standard is because Indonesian and Malaysian producers are not prepared to stop clearing forests and peatlands. Simply put, it is short-term business interests, not sovereignty that is calling the shots. In this context environmental and social issues go out the window.

Allowing the producers to bully the RSPO in this way completely undermines its credibility and in effect gives RSPO members a licence to continue deforestation and drive climate change.

This makes a mockery of RSPO claims to sustainability and thwarts the efforts of companies that are genuinely interested in breaking the link between deforestation and palm oil. Companies like Proctor and Gamble and Unilever cannot claim to support an end to deforestation for palm oil on one hand whilst continuing commercial relationships with companies like Sinar Mas on the other. Now that the RSPO has failed to address the issue of GHG, it is up to consumer companies to demand strict greenhouse gas standards from producers and to end contracts with companies who will not stop deforestation for palm oil.

Bustar Maitar is a Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest campaigner —