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Swathes of Indonesian rainforest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantings

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Frontline Online: Ecocide in action in Kalimantan Updated

January 28th, 2013

by Lorna Howarth

The Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on environmental news and action from the Frontline

REDD initiatives and carbon-trading schemes are notoriously complex

In Indonesia, the name for the island of Borneo is Kalimantan. It is the third largest island in the world, renowned for its lush tropical rainforests, one of only two strongholds for the intelligent, endangered orangutan.

While eco-tourism in Kalimantan is a booming industry as people travel from all over the world to see orangutans in their natural habitat, so too is palm oil: the former depends upon intact ecosystems; the latter can only thrive by eradicating natural ecosystems.

Recently, a small team from Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) travelled to Central Kalimantan to see the consequences of their government’s REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) deal in Indonesia, first hand.

They flew in a small plane for over three hours above palm oil plantations – a monoculture dependent on polluting chemical inputs, that was once diverse rainforest.

The plantation in question is owned by one company – Wilmar – Asia’s leading agribusiness corporation, which was recently crowned by Newsweek as the worst performing company in ‘green ranking’ of the world’s largest 500 companies. The Norwegian Pension Fund has invested $64 million dollars in Wilmar, although thanks to sustained campaigning by RFN the Pension Fund announced last month that it is putting tropical forest protection as high priority in its environmental strategy. Quite how it will implement this in the face of its investment in Wilmar remains to be seen.

The great irony is that the REDD process is failing to mitigate ongoing deforestation in Kalimantan. In order to understand how this travesty of justice has happened, one has to be an expert in carbon trading, but according to a US$1 billion REDD deal between Indonesia and Norway has failed to address the fact that 78% of the area of Central Kalimantan – Indonesia's Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation pilot province – is already covered by forestry concessions.

A moratorium on forestry concessions, which is part of the Norwegian billion-dollar deal, applies only to new concessions and not to existing concessions, therefore allowing for considerable deforestation of tropical forests continue, to make way for palm oil plantations.

REDD initiatives and carbon-trading schemes are notoriously complex, but the acronym is misleading. Carbon emissions are often massively increased because, as in the case of Kalimantan, whilst a moratorium on deforestation is declared for some areas, concessions for logging and development are given for others, or an area of ancient forest can be logged as long as the emissions are compensated for by industrial tree plantations elsewhere.

In Kalimantan, the destruction of the rainforest had led to the drying-out of the peaty soil, leading to massive fires that release huge amounts of carbon. This is to say nothing of species loss and land-grabs of Indigenous territory. As has been vociferously contended at recent UN COP gatherings, REDD is fundamentally flawed.

In terms of Ecocide, if it were to become part of the Rome Statute, Wilmar’s activities would become ‘Crimes Against Peace’ – because of the conflict that is caused due to its operations: conflict that affects Indigenous peoples, natural ecosystems, climate change and its global consequences.
To understand more about the complexities of REDD and why many believe it is a contradiction in terms, and to see images of the devastation in Kalimantan, visit: <> <>

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing ageny:

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