A deeper look into major palm oil groups operating in Indonesia
Tree cover loss is typically measured in hectares. One hectare is equivalent to about 3/4 of a football pitch. In these terms, roughly 158,000 football pitches of Indonesian tropical forest have been lost between 2005 and 2018. This is equivalent to 221,493 kilometers, 137,629 miles, or five times the size of Denmark.
Aerial view of Sawit plantation in Indonesia.
Deforestation risks in Indonesia mostly surround the expansion of palm oil production, whether for consumer goods, such as snacks or cosmetics, or biofuels for transportation. Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer, and the country’s economic performance is highly dependent on a robust industry.
The government has issued a moratorium on forest clearing to curb deforestation. This action has been only modestly successful as large areas of forests that were protected are still being cleared. Moreover, some plantations continue to deforest land despite the law, as there are still outlets for dirty palm oil.
While government initiatives have helped curb deforestation rates in recent years, so have company actions. Many large Fast-Moving Consumer Goods companies and major palm oil traders have committed to eliminating deforestation in their supply chains but have fallen short of this goal.
The government, despite its moratorium, has mandated an increase in the amount of palm oil in biodiesel fuel to help the industry, an action that increases the risk of additional deforestation. While palm oil production is the largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia, the pulp and paper, mining, and illegal logging also contribute.
Besides the impact on climate change, deforestation is detrimental to the livelihoods of indigenous groups and endangered species in Indonesia.
Fires in Indonesia, April 2020: Each yellow dot is a fire observed by NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.
During its dry season, Indonesia faces a spike in illegal fires in tropical forests and peatlands to clear land for agricultural purposes.
The majority of these fires are concentrated in government awarded concessions or peatlands that are cleared and drained for agricultural development. Palm oil production, in particular, is associated with clear-cutting and setting fire to forested land to remove roots and forest debris.
In the worst years, fires can increase Indonesia’s total emissions by up to a factor of three. Fires in High Carbon Stock (HCS) areas, such as carbon and methane-rich peatlands, directly contribute to climate change through high greenhouse gas emissions. Fires in High Conservation Value (HCV) areas magnify impacts on biodiversity and encroach on indigenous territories.
Since 2000, the Indonesian provinces of South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, and Riau have seen the highest occurrence of fires. However, Papua has emerged as a new fire hot spot in Indonesia as, comparatively, it has a much greater amount of undeveloped forested land.
Homepage numbers: Tree cover loss (since 2005), Global Forest Watch; Value of palm oil exports, 2019, International Trade Center; Deforestation as a percentage of GHG emissions, 2005-2016, Climate Watch.