World Rainforest Movement

Global warming: More plantations or more will to reduce emissions?

-During the international negotiations on climate change, some governments committed themselves to reducing carbon dioxide emissions in their own countries. This very encouraging attitude from an environmental perspective –for the reduction of the greenhouse effect– can at the same time be the worst decision against the environment if it were to be implemented through the promotion of plantations to act as so-called “carbon sinks.”
Negotiations will be restarting in July this year and the issue is very much on the agenda, given that more and more governments and corporations –mostly Northern– are stimulating monoculture tree plantations in the South –eucalyptus, pines or oil palm– as a means to “offset” (in reality to justify) their greenhouse gas emissions, instead of controlling and reducing them.

These decisions are being taken without taking into account the impacts of monocultures on the countries and peoples which inhabit the regions in which they are implemented. In the case of oil palm plantations, they are being promoted through the press or scientific studies which, to the usual false arguments (employment generation, contribution to the country’s development) now add an equaly false one: that “Oil palm is an excellent “machine” [that] can fix carbon dioxide using solar energy”.

We have already stated through the WRM bulletin all the reasons to oppose the carbon sink mechanism (see web page address below), so we won’t repeat them now. What we do wish is to reproduce a few quotes to exemplify the propaganda with which the unknowing public is being increasingly bombarded with the aim of both imposing oil palm plantations and of imposing the “remedy” of carbon sink plantations as the solution to global climate change:

1- Forests are a natural store of carbon. Oil-palm plantations have similar net carbon fixation to lowland forests. (“More Land To Be Needed For Oil-Palm Areas” from the New Straits Times, February 13th, 2001 – Malaysia)

2- Like hevea, oil palm trees are environmental friendly. It removes carbon dioxide from the air and releases oxygen to the atmosphere. At the same time, stands of oil palm trees form renewal resources for the pulp and paper industry. These materials will be available from the 2.8 million hectares of oil palm trees in Malaysia and thereby reduces pressure on some forest species. (“Sustaining Agricultural Development in Malaysia: Experience in the Plantation Sector” by Dr. Abdul Aziz, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Director-General of Malaysian Rubber Board and Dr. Yusof Basiron, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Director-General of Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia)

3- Well managed oil palms sequester more carbon (C) per unit area than tropical rainforests, and oil palm estates are predicted to become an important part of C offset management in the next century. (“Oil Palm – The Great Crop of South East Asia: Potential, Nutrition and Management” by Ernst W. Mutert and Thomas H. Fairhurst, Potash & Phosphate Institute, Paper presented at the IFA Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 14-17 November 1999)

4- In the same way as rubber tree plantations, the cultivation of oil palms is also regarded as environmentally friendly, because it helps to fix carbon during the plant growth stage, cutting down on the greenhouse effect, besides providing other environmental advantages. Research shows that a forest, during its growth period, absorbs more carbon than it discharges into the atmosphere, thus working as a type of “filter”. Oil palm and rubber plantations have this profile, according to scientists. (OMB Group, Oil Palm / Dendê Plantation, Brazil)

5- Oil palm is an excellent “machine” can fix carbon dioxide using solar energy (“Palm Oil Project – An International Collaboration in Gene Manipulation of Oil Palm for the New Century” by Dr. Hiroshi SANO, Chief Research Scientist, Agricultural Chemicals Laboratory Yokohama, Research Center Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation)

6- An oil palm plantation can “sequester” up to 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for each hectare planted, thus contributing to mitigate the greenhouse effect … a planted forest is replacing another forest (Jorge Román, Project Manager of Palmeras de los Andes, Revista Gestión Economía y Sociedad, Octubre del 2000. No.76)
7- …while Malaysia’s Primary Industries Minister chimed in a few months later with the claim that his country’s oil palm plantations are in fact “better than the developed nations’ pine trees in terms of absorbing carbon gases”. (The Corner House Briefing #15 – “The Dyson Effect: Carbon “Offset” Forestry and the Privatisation of the Atmosphere” – 1999)

8- Malaysia emitted 144 million tonnes of greenhouse gases…almost half (68.7 million tonnes) of the emissions was absorbed by “carbon sink” – planted forests,…oil palm turned out to be the country’s largest carbon sink, taking up 63 per cent of the 68.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases absorded due to their extensive areas. (“Malaysia’s CO2 emissions among lowest”, Malaysia Daily Express, November 27, 2000)