On Monday, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, launched a peatland rehabilitation project in Indonesia and committed to 100 percent traceability to mill by the end of 2015.
GAR’s Peat Ecosystem Rehabilitation Project will help develop fire prevention measures and long-term protection of one of the company’s concessions in West Kalimantan. This is the first time a project of this kind has been attempted by a palm oil company. GAR — which in 2014 pledged that all of the palm oil it produces, sources and trades would be deforestation-free — says this new project is an effort to demonstrate how businesses can combine conservation and economic development in practice.
Palm oil, the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, is directly linked to fires that have been devastating Indonesia. The island nation produces half of the world’s palm oil, which has led to illegal burning to clear land for its cultivation. This year’s strong El Niño aggravated the country’s dry season to produce the worst year on record for forest fires; more than 127,000 forest fires were detected before rain finally began to make the situation manageable. At least 19 people died, critical rainforest habitats were destroyed, and emissions totaled over 1.62 billion metric tons of CO2.
The protection of peatlands are critical to preventing similar crises. Peat stores some of the highest quantities of carbon and emits methane, meaning it creates drastically greater emissions when burned. The project from GAR is a great first step and example of how companies can take action.
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GAR has vowed to collaborate with environmental consultancy Malaysian Environmental Consultants (MEC) to rehabilitate the peat area and consult the local community to help protect it.
“Indonesia needs solutions to the pressing issues of climate change, forest loss and fire. Through our Social and Environmental Policy and our commitment to peat rehabilitation, GAR is demonstrating that economic development and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand,” said Agus Purnomo, Managing Director of Sustainability and Strategic Stakeholder Engagement at GAR. “We will continue to call for and support change across Indonesia and the industry to achieve sustainable palm oil.”
The company’s improved GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP) includes commitments to ensure 100% traceability to mill by the end of this year, provide funding to alternative livelihood programs to local communities, and help smallholders improve crop yields thereby reducing the likelihood of illegal burning for land expansion. The commitments prompted environmental organization The Forest Trust (TFT) to re-engage with the GAR to ensure the policy’s success.
Earlier this year, two of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies stepped up to protect Indonesian forests. Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) announced a new Sustainable Forest Management Plan that committed to zero deforestation, and Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP) retired roughly 7,000 hectares (about 17,300 acres) of commercial plantation areas to protect peatland. It was the first time that plantations on tropical peatland have been retired for conservation purposes worldwide.
Amy Moas, PhD, US Senior Forest Campaigner, explained the significance of paper company commitments following APRIL’s announcement: “APRIL’s policy [was] huge news for the entire industry; along with APP’s zero-deforestation commitment in 2013, now over 80 percent of the pulp sector in Indonesia is committed to stopping the destruction of the rainforests. Protecting the forests and peatlands is the way forward for Indonesia and the world, and will bring significant benefits for the climate.”