As I have written about on Understory before, Sumatra’s Bukit Tigapuluh is one of the last great forests of the world. It’s breathtaking biodiversity, high conservation importance, and value to three indigenous cultures withstanding, Sinar Mas -Indonesia’s largest producer of palm oil and owner of Asia Pulp and Paper- is actively destroying significant portions of the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem.
Just minutes ago, the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) passed a resolution, introduced by the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), to expel any member who clears portions of the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem, which has been found to contain large numbers of High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs).
This is the sole bright spot of what has been a depressing RSPO, where oil palm producers have failed to address previous complaints against the worst of the worst oil palm producers like Duta Palma, and blocked any criteria limiting Green House Gas Emissions.
Pak Daud, one of Sinar Mas’ top managers, stood up to try and block the resolution: “There is no clarity on this, we need better data, this is a grey area.” He then tried to avoid responsibility by claiming that because a subsidiary of Sinar Mas is doing the clearing, the RSPO has no power to limit Sinar Mas’ actions. His plea met with boos from the crowd.
This surprising development at the RSPO puts some serious pressure on Sinar Mas to immediately stop all destruction of the only reintroduction site in Sumatra for orangutans, one of the largest habitats for the Sumatran tiger, and the territory of some of the most traditional hunter gathers in the world.
It is also a call for the RSPO to live up to their own criteria and take action against Sinar Mas if they continue their dirty and dangerous operations at Bukit Tigapuluh. This will be a new test for the RSPO. For the sake of the world’s forests, forest peoples, and climate, I hope this deeply trouble palm oil group is up to the task.
David Gilbert is a Research Fellow at RAN. He has worked in the tropical forests of the Amazon and Indonesia, with a special focus on forest conservation and indigenous rights.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org