Indonesia Defends Palm Plantations

Copenhagen. Indonesian delegates on Wednesday night promoted the country’s palm oil industry as sustainable at the UN climate talks, in the wake of a recently-published Greenpeace report accusing Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer of deception and illegal practices.

Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said Indonesia would cut its emissions 9.6 percent by making palm oil plantations more sustainable. That is a sizable chunk of its much-lauded recent commitment to slash emissions by 26 percent before 2020.

A 2009 decree on environmental protection would use law enforcement and improved technology and management to ensure the “development of oil palm will be sustainable and will not harm efforts in anticipating climate change, and will reduce carbon dioxide,” Hatta said at a press conference.

A recently-released Greenpeace report accused Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer, Sinar Mas, of flouting environmental and social
standards while “crafting an illusion of commitment to sustainability”.

The report said the pulp, paper and palm oil conglomerate was clearing land without permits and in deep peat. It accused Sinar Mas of violating Indonesian law and the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry group the company belongs to.

Hatta said on the sidelines of the press briefing that a delegation from the forestry and environment ministries had been sent to observe Sinar Mas. While some of the reports’ claims could be accurate,  he said, “it seems to me that they practice sustainable development for forestry.”

Agriculture Minister Suswono said that despite “mismanagement in the past”, the focus in the future would be on raising the productivity of existing palm oil plantations, rather than the converting more forests into plantations.

Asked whether a law would be passed to enforce this policy, Hatta said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered all governors of Indonesian provinces to follow it.

“As a developing country, Indonesia needs to use its land and all natural resources to provide people with better revenue,” Suswono
said, adding that palm oil industry had provided the financial means for food, infrastructure and electricity in underdeveloped regions.

Indonesia has 18 million hectares of land suitable for oil palm, Hatta said, with seven million hectares occupied by palm oil plantations in 2009. Small farmers owned 40 percent of that figure, he added.

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