World Rainforest Movement

Hiding monoculture oil palm plantations under a business-friendly “forest” definition

An article published on the website (1) informs that “a draft commission communication offering guidance to EU member states on the use of biofuels has classified palm oil plantations – the source of one of the most destructive forms of biofuels – as “forests.”  Essentially, the document argues that because palm oil plantations are tall enough and shady enough, they count as forests.”

The article quotes the document: “Continuously forested areas are defined as areas where trees have reached, or can reach, at least heights of five metres, making up a crown cover of more than 30 percent.” “They would normally include forest, forest plantations and other tree plantations such as palm oil.” “This means, for example, that a change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the [sustainability criteria].”

The above is the successful outcome of the intense lobbying campaign on the EU Commission carried out by Malaysian producers – through GPlus, the international lobbying outfit hired by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. At the same time, it serves well the purposes of the EU, that last year passed the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which requires EU member states to source 10 per cent of transport fuels from renewable sources, much of which will certainly come from monoculture oil palm plantations. Defining those plantations as “forests” will assist in greenwashing their social and environmental impacts.

Indonesia, the world’s top producer of palm oil has swiftly seized the opportunity for defining its destructive oil palm plantations as “forests”. On 16 February, the Jakarta Post informed that “the Forestry Ministry is drafting a decree to include oil palm plantations in the forest sector to comply with international standards in mitigating climate change.” The head of research and development at the ministry, Tachrir Fathoni, said that “by definition, oil palm plantations will be defined as forest”, arguing that “many countries such as Malaysia, the world’s second biggest palm oil producer after Indonesia, had included oil palm plantations in its forest sector.”

Although defining industrial monocultures of an alien species as “forest” is scientifically absurd, it makes much economic sense, as Tachrir Fathoni explains: “By doing so, Malaysia can reap financial incentives from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of carbon trade.” He said that the UN only categorized trees with a certain height as forest trees, without identifying their species and that this move “is to anticipate the implementation of the REDD scheme”. Under REDD (Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) countries with extensive “forest cover” can receive financial benefits by stopping deforestation. Which means that Indonesia will be financially rewarded for destroying its tropical forests as long as they substitute them with oil palm “forests”!

All this absurd situation serves at least to strengthen the position of the many organizations that have for years been challenging the FAO’s definition of forest, that includes plantations as such. International processes such as UNFCCC have uncritically accepted the FAO definition, thus leading to absurd situations such as the one now being exposed.

At the same time, we hope that the leaked document will lead to organized opposition in Europe against such definition by the EU, which if adopted will help to accelerate forest destruction, not only in Indonesia and Malaysia, but throughout the entire South.

Oil palm plantations are not forests!

 (1) “Palm oil plantations are now ‘forests,’ says EU”, by Leigh Phillips,