NewEnergyNews: ROUNDTABLE ON SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL: WILL IT SAVE RAINFORESTS?

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    Sunday, December 30, 2007

    ROUNDTABLE ON SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL: WILL IT SAVE RAINFORESTS?

    Biofuels is one of the hottest words in the New Energy lexicon right now. The U.S. Congress ended 2007 by providing a huge subsidy for the development of biofuels.

    And a major accomplishment of the recent Bali summit on climate change was world leaders’ first steps toward incentivizing the protection of rainforests being destroyed for biofuels.


    Many think the best thing would be to give the nations that own rainforests a financial stake in protecting them. (click to enlarge)

    Biofuels come from two sources: Growing things and waste (and the waste ultimately comes from growing things, of course). Thus, biofuels represent a serious threat to the precious and dwindling tropical rainforests. They turn the forests into multiple sources of enormous wealth. Rainforest lumber is highly valued. The rest of the forest can be used as waste biomass (or just burned). Finally, the cleared land can be turned into palm plantations.

    The palms grow like weeds and the palm oil is harvested and sold to biofuels refiners. Demand for biofuels is rising off the charts all over Asia, making Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests ideally located for plantations. (See FINLAND/SINGAPORE IN SUSTAINABLE BIODIESEL DEAL) Vast swaths of rainforest are disappearing literally DAILY, becoming palm plantations owned by the very few and very rich while multitudes of human, animal and vegetable species are disappearing with the forests’ biodiversity.

    The
    Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), spawned by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and others with vested interestes in the development of palm plantations (Aarhus United UK Ltd, Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, Migros, Malaysian Palm Oil Association, Sainsbury's and Unilever), was founded in 2002 “…to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through co-operation within the supply chain and open dialogue with its stakeholders…”

    Is it that? Or is it a front behind which huge corporate entities and rainforest rapists can hide?


    Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which considers WWF more “middle-of-the-road” when it comes to safeguarding tropical rainforests, is worried. Brihannala C. Morgan, Rainforest Agribusiness Campaigner for RAN says that under current RSPO rules the certification unit is the mill. A company can obtain certification by having a few mills approved by RSPO. There would then be no restrictions on any other of the company’s mills. Huge current demand in India, China and the rest of Asia’s emerging economies will inevitably drive the development of the cheapest mills, run by unsustainable practices.

    Here is a brief of Morgan’s report from the most recent RSPO meeting.


    Tales from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

    WHO
    Rainforest Action Network (RAN) (Brihannala C. Morgan, Rainforest Agribusiness Campaigner); SawitWatch; Forest People’s Program; Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); WWF

    From the Rainforest Action Network website. Links in this post lead there. (click to enlarge)

    WHAT
    NewEnergyNews has obtained a brief first-hand report on the 5th RSPO meeting from Brihannala C. Morgan of RAN.

    WHEN
    20-22 November 2007

    Logo of the RSPO: But does it promote sustainable practices? Or does it just promote palm oil? (click to enlarge)

    WHERE
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    WHY
    - Morgan pointed out that RAN is not a member of the RSPO and does not plan to become a member but took part in the RSPO meeting in support of RAN’s partners SawitWatch and Forest Peoples’ Project.
    - Morgan summarized RAN’s 3 areas of concern about the RSPO:
    (1) There needs to be a “formal…accessible” way for smaller participants to express concerns. The people on the ground, in the forests, need to be able to voice complaints, be heard and play an active role deciding which companies’ practices deserve certification.
    (2) There need to be concrete principles and criteria to directly limit deforestation rates and prevent the indiscriminate use of fire for clearing the land (a major contribution to smog/greenhouse gas emissions).
    (3) The The RSPO only addresses “best practices.” There needs to be a method to prevent “bad practices” and improve “worst offenders.”

    There are better ways to make better biofuels. (click to enlarge)

    QUOTES
    Morgan, RAN: “Overall, we consider the RSPO to be seriously flawed, but still a first step down the path to increased sustainability. We support our partners (SawitWatch, Forest People’s Program, etc) who are working to make the RSPO an actual roundtable, with smallholder and affected community participation. At this point, however, we cannot support anyone purchasing palm oil because it is RSPO certified— the realities are that this certification is not near strong enough to be considered ‘sustainable’.”

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