Indonesia’s rainforests may sit on the other side of the globe from U.S. consumers and investors, but key resources from these biodiverse gems, such as timber and palm oil, a staple in nearly all commercially made cookies and other sweets, play a huge role in deciding the future of the forests.
And that means the threatened health of critical acreage, even with a reduction in deforestation rates, still can’t be ignored.
The urgency comes in a new report from Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which argues the remaining critical rainforests of Indonesia are still under threat because they are vulnerable to private-sector whims and could be logged or converted to palm oil plantations at any moment. Read more on palm oil in global markets.
Many vast monocrop palm oil plantations have displaced tropical forests across Asia, Latin America and West Africa. Globally, palm oil supplies 40% of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6% of the land used to produce all vegetable oils.
Around 90% of the world’s oil palm trees are grown on a few islands in Malaysia and Indonesia – islands with the most biodiverse tropical forests found on Earth, says the World Wildlife Fund. Biodiversity matters for human and animal health and nutrition. It’s key to keeping oceans a complex ecosystem. And biodiversity creates important divisions that help ensure disease doesn’t spread easily from animals to humans.
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In Indonesia, specifically, the growing threats to the region known as the Heart of Borneo are mounting, with nearly two-thirds of the forests in North and East Kalimantan (where most of the Bornean rainforest is concentrated) still within company concessions, meaning companies can use land for timber or palm oil production.
Plus, the impending move of the capital city of Indonesia to the region only compounds the threats to these rainforests, environmental groups stress.
“Globally, we stand on the precipice of an unstoppable climate crisis, and any further forest destruction will only push us closer to the edge,” said Daniel Carrillo, Forest Campaign Director at RAN.
“Meanwhile, the very communities attempting to protect these invaluable rainforests for all of us are facing increasing threats and reprisals. This must stop now and these multinational companies have the power to change it,” he said.
“Despite reduction in Indonesia’s deforestation rates, much of the country’s remaining rainforests are still under threat.”
RAN’s report argues for returning more of the stewardship of the rainforests to local and Indigenous communities. These groups’ resistance to industrial development is one of the only things saving some of these last rainforests, RAN researchers argue.
Focused on the region known as the Heart of Borneo in North and East Kalimantan, the report details how one dynamic Indigenous community called Long Isun has been fighting against logging operations on their land and for their legal land rights to be recognized for over a decade, allegedly facing intense threats and criminalization along the way. One of the region’s largest influencers is privately held Indonesian conglomerate Harita Group. Harita controls two logging companies holding the rights to develop Long Isun’s forests.
“In defending our source of life, including the forest, land, water and our dignity, I was arrested for 109 days,” said Long Isun community member Theodor Tekwan Ajat, called Tekwan, head of the forest management organization of Long Isun. “Until this day, my status is still listed as a suspect and I am required to report to the police,” he says.
Tekwan was imprisoned and criminalized by local police without charges, he says, a finding backed by RAN. It’s a tactic that Long Isun believes was employed by the primary logging company in conflict with the community, with the support of the police, to coerce the community into accepting the logging operation.
A number of major international brands, including consumer goods companies Procter & Gamble
are connected to the case, despite adopting leading No Deforestation, No Peatland, No Exploitation policies, RAN says, in turn urging the major food and consumer conglomerates to keep tabs on Borneo developments beyond membership in the deforestation-protection group.
Specifically, RAN is calling on Procter & Gamble and Mondelēz, as well as other connected brands, to enforce their sourcing policies and require that their supplier — the Harita Group — adheres to these policies across all of the Harita Group’s operations, including their proposed timber operations that overlap with the customary lands of the Long Isun community.
Read: P&G plays climate-change catch up but critics say worrisome tree-to-toilet pipeline has to go
For its part, in addition to deforestation efforts, P&G has joined other consumer-product conglomerates with its own updated climate-change campaign, agreeing with rivals that the next decade is a critical time for action and aiming for “nature as a climate solution” in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
P&G has an existing goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and purchasing 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and is on track to deliver on its 2030 commitments, it said. However, based on today’s technologies, there are some emissions that cannot be eliminated by 2030.
By investing in natural climate solutions, the company will accelerate its impact over the next 10 years, it said. That includes a partnership with Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund to restore select Philippines mangrove forests and help restore California’s wildfire devastation, among other projects.
Back in Indonesia, a formal complaint has been raised to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), one of the world’s largest paper and timber certification systems, over the Harita Group’s alleged violation of Long Isun’s traditional rights and its refusal to permanently withdraw the plans to log the community’s customary lands.
Read: Brazil’s new president works to reverse Amazon deforestation
In 2017, the FSC revoked the certificate of one Harita Group company over the land conflict in Long Isun. In February 2023, the FSC announced that it will not pursue an alternative dispute resolution process with the Harita Group after another one of its timber companies had its certificate suspended due to non-conformities with FSC requirements.
A request for comment from Harita by MarketWatch was not immediately answered, though the company itself makes declarations of sustainability practices on its website. Harita has businesses in nickel and bauxite mining, palm oil, shipping, timber, coal and property development.
RAN did raise the allegations to the Harita Group, which denied the allegations with this response.