Anti-Palm Oil NGOs Protect The Environment | Myth & Facts 2-09

FACTS – So far, Western countries, both directly and indirectly (through NGOs), have intensively attacked the world palm oil industry, especially in Indonesia. The expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia is perceived as having caused considerable GHG emissions. The anti-palm oil movement began in the early 1980s.

In the early years, the movement used health issuesas the theme of their protests, such as by spreading rumors that the tropical oil containedcholesterol. Then in the 1990s, the theme was focused on claims that palm oil could cause cardiovascular disease. In the early 2000s, the theme shifted to the environmental problems caused by oil palm plantations. In addition to the smear campaigns, many other methods are also used to suppress the development of Indonesia’s palm oil industry, through the use of import duties, the requirement for the certification of sustainable palm oil products and intervention in government’s policy.

Campaignsfor a forest-conversion moratorium, peat management regulations, palm oil waste management, the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP), “Palm Oil Free” labeling havealso been launched by Western countries through NGOs in Indonesia. Is it true that anti-palm oil protests made by these NGOs are intended to preserve the environment, especially reducing Indonesia’s GHG emissions? The empirical facts prove that the movement lacks sufficient rationality (see Chapters 6 and 7) According to the IEA (2016), 68 percent of global GHG emissions are sourced from fossil fuel consumption.

The world’s largest GHG-emitting countries are China, the United States and India. These three countries account for about 50 percent of global GHG emissions. Indonesia’s contribution to global GHG emissions is only 1.3 percent. FAO data (2013) show that global agricultural contributions account for only 11 percent of global GHG emissions. About 95 percent of global agricultural GHG emissions are contributed by the livestock sector, rice farming and fertilizer use.

Global peatland utilization’s contribution is only about 2 percent. Indonesia’s largest agricultural GHG emission source is rice farming and livestock activities. About 66 percent of Indonesia’s agricultural GHG emissions come from rice and livestock farms. The contribution of peatland use for agriculture/plantation accounts for only about 19 percent of Indonesia’s agricultural GHG emissions or only about 1 percent of Indonesia’s GHG emissions.

It is the same thing with global deforestation. The greatest deforestation occurring before 1980 was in Europe and North America (Matthew, 1983). Later, in 1990-2008, the deforestation was largest in South America for the expansion of cattle ranches, soybean, corn and sugarcane plantation (European Commission, 2013).

Based on the above facts it is clear that the protests against the palm oil plantations are not made for the sake of environmental conservation/GHG emissions and are not supported by empirical facts. If the purpose is to reduce Indonesia’s GHG emissions then NGOs would need to encourage the reduction of fossil fuels as the biggest contributor of GHG emissions in Indonesia. In the agricultural sector,

NGOs should encourage cuttingthe GHG emissions of rice and livestock farming as the largest contributors (66 percent) of Indonesia’s agricultural GHG emissions. Similarly, if the policy on the requirement forsustainability certification is intended to reduce Indonesia’s agricultural GHG emissions, rice farming and livestock farming, not oil palm plantations, should be the first to be required to carry green labelling. Based on the composition of GHG-emitting countries, reductions in global GHG emissions should be first made by major emitters such as China, India and the United States.

Why do global NGOs not use their energy to suppress the largest GHGemitting countries? And why are global NGOs more interested in questioning the GHG emissions of Indonesian oil palm plantations that contribute so very little to global GHG emissions? Reductions in GHG concentration in the earth’s atmosphere need not only to be made in the production sector, but more importantly in the consumption sector. Romanian economist Georgescu-Roegen (1971) states that what should be done by developed countries is not sustainable development, but sustainablede-growth.

The world’s major GHG emitters should reduce consumption (energy and food) to reduce GHG emissions. Unfortunately, reducing consumption is tantamount to reducing the welfare of the people in developed countries. Are the people in developed countries willing to reduce their living standards? If the reason for the anti-palm oil movement is not an effort to reduce global GHG emissions, what is the motive behind the movement? The motivation of the Western-sponsored anti-palm oil movement may constitute one or a combination of the two following reasons.

First, it could be a part of the global vegetable oil competition strategy, and second, a shift of the responsibility for the increase in the global GHG emission from Western countries to developing countries including Indonesia. If competition is the motive, it is a continuation of the movement that has been ongoingsince the 1980s. An increase in global palm oil production especially in Indonesia has reduced the dominance of soybean oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, both in the production and consumption of global vegetable oil (PASPI, 2014; Sipayung and Purba, 2015).

The main producer of soybean oil is the United States, while the biggest producers of sunflower and rapeseed oil are in the EU. The decline in the market share of soybean, rapeseed and sunflower oils in the global vegetable oil market, for the United States and the EU, is not just a mere business issue butalso concerns the fate of the enormous subsidies given by the EU and United Statesto their farmers every year.

Therefore, in addition to vegetable oil producer associations, the governments of both countries also protect their farmers through the introduction of import restrictions on other vegetable oils, particularly palm oil. Shifting the responsibility for the rise in global GHG emissions from Western countries (as the largest emitters of GHG) to developing countriesseems to be the more probable motivation. This is the logical consequence of the unwillingness of people in Western countries to reduce their standards of living, which is needed, if they want to reduce GHG emissions.

Western societies have per capita incomes more than 10 times those in Indonesia. Their per capita food and energy consumption is also more than 10 times those of Indonesia. If we want to reduce global GHG emissions, the per capita consumption of energy and food of Western countries should be reduced. In fact, Western societies are unwilling to reduce their consumption and choose to transfer these responsibilities to developing countries including Indonesia.

With their superiority in almost all fields, it is easy for the West to pressure developing countries to assume that responsibility. With their financial power, Western countries can easily influence officials and even local experts so that developing countries are urged to repeat the West’spast mistakes,which have resulted in the destruction of their own forests (including their inhabitants) and for the West to be able to maintain its own GHG emissions so that their living standards are not affected.

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