Environmental Commentary: Why are we Still Losing so Much Rainforest in Indonesia?

A helicopter drops water to extinguish a fire at a plantation in Kubu Raya district, Indonesia. Reuters/Antara Photo Agency
A helicopter drops water to extinguish a fire at a plantation in Kubu Raya district, Indonesia. Reuters/Antara Photo Agency

 for Grist

Two years ago, Wilmar, the biggest palm oil company in the world, made a commitment to halt deforestation. That set the dominoes tumbling: Other companies followed suit, until every major buyer of palm oil was on board. But it didn’t stop there. Other big agricultural commodity traders pushed the bar higher by promising to end deforestation not just as it related to palm oil, but across all their supply chains. Key logging corporations also pledged to stop clearing new land.

Last year, I wrote a hopeful piece about the origins of this sea change. Surely this meant good things for tropical forests, particularly in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, and home to over 40 million hectares of species-rich primary forests — an area the size of Montana.

Then I watched in dismay  as a particularly awful fire season torched forests across Indonesia. Forest fires, most lit to clear land, covered the region in a choking haze and produced more greenhouse gases each day than the entire U.S. economy. It may be the worst ongoing climate change crisis. In the parched summer of 2015, fires consumed 2.6 million hectares of forest and farmland in Indonesia.

The most pugilistic environmental groups claimed that the very companies that had committed to ending deforestation were secretly encouraging the burning so as to enlarge their plantations. More measured advocates said the corporations were still doing the right thing, but needed help. Then, in the middle of all this, members of the Indonesian government began saying that no-deforestation pledges must be rolled back so that small farmers could cut down forests to make a living.

This excerpt from an article appeared in and is courtesy of Grist and can be read in its entirety here.

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