Palm oil deal aims to save forests and carbon

A major palm oil producer is joining forces with environmental campaigners in a bid to ramp up forest protection.

The giant Indonesian company Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) has agreed to work within new standards aimed at saving forests that store a lot of carbon.

International environment group The Forest Trust (TFT) is partnering the company and will monitor compliance.

The palm oil industry has regularly been accused of destroying old-growth forest as demand rockets.

The new deal expands on existing standards agreed under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an international alliance of producers, processors, retailers and environment groups.

Already, RSPO rules forbid clearing old-growth forest or land with high conservation value, and developers are also supposed to obtain informed consent from local people before initiating new plantations.

Under the new deal, GAR will go further, vowing not to plant on peat, and not to clear forest where significant carbon is locked up in trees.

This should mean that large tracts of forest that have been partially logged will now be off-limits to the company.

Initially, the figure of 35 tonnes of carbon stored per hectare will be used as a ceiling; but that could change as research progresses.

“We’re not trying to undermine the RSPO – we’re saying ‘this is something you guys need to look at and maybe move towards,'” said Scott Poynton, TFT’s executive director.

“Everyone’s talking about taking the lead, but no-one’s doing it – this is an example of taking the lead,” he told BBC News from Indonesia.

Reputational hit

GAR is the world’s second-largest producer of palm oil, a product mainly used in food, fuels and cosmetics.

Like other companies in the field, it has been heavily criticised by environmental groups – a state of affairs that it wants to change.

“As a leading player in the palm oil industry, we are committed to playing our role in conserving Indonesia’s forests,” said Franky Wijaya, GAR’s chairman and CEO.

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