Palm Oil Deforestation Worsens Despite Pledges

By Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay.com
February 25, 2015 Updated: February 26, 2015

An Indonesian palm oil firm is destroying rainforests in New Guinea despite high profile zero deforestation pledges from its customers, finds research by Greenomics-Indonesia.

Landsat imagery acquired and analyzed by Greenomics shows that Austindo Nusantara Jaya Agri (ANJ) is clearing high carbon stock forests in the southern part of West Papua’s Bird’s Head Peninsula in Indonesian New Guinea. According to data from Global Forest Watch, clearance is occurring within an “Intact Forest Landscape”, which is defined as “an unbroken expanse of natural ecosystems within the zone of current forest extent, showing no signs of significant human activity, and large enough that all native biodiversity, including viable populations of wide-ranging species, could be maintained.”

The activity is occurring despite zero deforestation policies established by Musim Mas and Wilmar, palm oil giants that buy from ANJ, which itself is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a body that sets eco-certification standards.

Reached by mongabay.com, Wilmar said it was unaware of the clearing by ANJ but promised to investigate the matter. The company noted that no one had filed a grievance via its online complaints system to report on the activity.

Musim Mas did not respond to request for comment. But the company’s sustainability policy suggests that ANJ’s clearing would not represent a breach of its zero deforestation pledge, since it only applies to mill-level operations in 2015. Musim Mas doesn’t plan to extend the policy to the plantation level until 2017.

Accordingly, Greenomics says the findings indicate that zero deforestation pacts still have loopholes that allow ongoing forest clearing. It adds that ANJ will have to cease forest clearing if it wants to comply with its customers’ zero deforestation policies once they go into effect.

“ANJ is one of the crude palm oil (CPO) suppliers to companies that are currently in the process of cleaning up their supply chain from deforestation,” Greenomics told mongabay.com. “ANJ has to stop clearing Papua’s forest if they still want to continue to be a CPO supplier to the zero deforestation policy-adopted companies. Given that no guarantee that ANJ will stop its role in destroying Papua’s forests, Wilmar and Musim Mas should take measurable actions — that are in line with their no deforestation policy — to respond to the unstoppable Papua’s forest clearing by ANJ.”

The case also reveals gaps in monitoring zero deforestation commitments. There aren’t yet systems for comprehensively tracking deforestation across supply chains. For example, ANJ’s plantations don’t show up in Global Forest Watch’s palm oil layer, indicating that the data isn’t contained in recent data sets from the Indonesian government.

Wilmar has taken early steps to address this issue by launching an online dashboard that maps its supply chain, including companies it buys from. However the dashboard doesn’t presently include entries for ANJ. Musim Mas discloses its relationship with ANJ on its web site.

ANJ has itself admitted to breaching RSPO rules for new planting. Last July, the company told Mongabay that “an infringement has occurred” and it would suspend “all activities…. on site.” However Greenomics’ analysis shows that clearing has continued in nearby concessions despite that statement.

ANJ didn’t respond to request for comment on the evidence of new clearing.

Update: 23-Feb-2015, 9:30 PST — response from Musim Mas

It is part of our new policy to investigate any supplier who does not adhere to our policy. Even though Greenomics has never raised the issue to us directly, only via media channels, but now that you have highlighted this matter, we will conduct our due diligence on the suppliers mentioned in Greenomics’ report and also contact Greenomics.

We are currently mapping out our first tier of supply chain, particularly the suppliers who provide the Crude Palm Oil (CPO) for our 10 refineries in Indonesia. Our refineries in Indonesia account for the bulk of the Group’s global refining capacity. Next, if these suppliers are located or are currently sourcing from areas considered to be high risk, they will be earmarked as a priority for engagement. These high-risk areas include areas with deep peat, areas near or inside designated national parks and the surrounding ecosystem, or areas with known social conflicts.

We will update our stakeholders on our progress in the upcoming quarterly report (available on www.musimmas.com ).

Citations:

  • Greenpeace, University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and Transparent World. 2014. Intact Forest Landscapes: update and degradation from 2000-2013. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on [date]. www.globalforestwatch.org
  • “Oil Palm.” World Resources Institute. Accessed through Global Forest Watch on Feb. 19, 2015. www.globalforestwatch.org.

This article was written by Rhett A. Butler, the head administrator for news.mongabay.com. This article has been republished with permission, original article here.

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