I just started as Greenpeace’s media director, in part because I wanted to help Greenpeace save the world’s rainforests, a topic I’ve written a lot about at Grist and elsewhere. Within a week of starting the job, I knew I’d made a good decision when I got this news release from our Southeast Asian office:
Indonesian province of Riau has pledged to halt the destruction of its forests and peatlands; a move that will prevent billions of tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere.
At a ceremony in the provincial capital Pekanbaru, Riau Governor Wan Abu Bakar announced the temporary ban, which will remain in place until a law is agreed. The move follows Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s pledge at the G-8 Summit in July to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation by 50 percent by 2009.
This is very good news for the orangutans, rhinos, and elephants being killed off by Indonesia’s aggressive expansion of palm oil — and excellent news for the climate too: Burning all that rainforest for palm oil makes Indonesia the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, right behind the United States and China and right ahead of fellow forest destroyer Brazil.
The victory comes after months of effort by Greenpeace in Riau (see a video of Greenpeace’s Forest Defenders Camp in Riau here) to expose the hugely disproportionate damage palm oil does to the planet. Alone, it accounts for around 8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
But don’t start buying Entenmann’s products, Twix, Oreos, Kit Kats, Body Shop soap, Burt’s Bees products, Kashi breakfast bars, or any of the other cookies, crackers, soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics that contain palm oil just yet. Food and ag giants like Cargill, ADM, and Bunge are still slipping this fattening orangutan killer into our Trader Joe’s Chocolate Truffles and Whole Foods’ water crackers, and the Indonesian central government is still allowing this land grab to go ahead unabated. Until deforestation for palm oil is stopped and already deforested areas restored, we need a complete ban on palm oil and rapid replacement with less ecologically damaging (and equally affordable) edible oils like canola.
We also need a long-term solution that will permanently change the financial calculus that allows palm oil, soy, and cattle ranching to take precedence over the far more valuable services forests provide such as carbon storage, clean air, and water, and shelter for indigenous people and wildlife. We can do that by giving financial credit for protecting forests under both domestic and international climate regimes. And we can finally put the deforestation era behind us once and for all.