• Tropical forests are being presented as a needed solution to fight climate change
  • Markets including the European Union, the United Kingdom and the US are seeking to reduce the impact of their imported goods on tropical forests
  • The European Union in particular, has a proposal to stop imported deforestation through a measure called Corporate Due Diligence


Under the proposed rules of Corporate Due Diligence, companies that import goods from other countries must be able to confirm that such goods, were not produced on deforested lands or caused deforestation.

These are laudable ambitions for the European Union which member states have a much earlier Overshoot Day. A country’s overshoot day is the date on which Earth Overshoot Day would fall if all of humanity consumed like the people in this country.

The data provided is useful for understanding what needs to be done by the global community to create a sustainable, livable planet. What stands out in the report is that developed countries like the US and EU member states, have a much earlier overshoot day than countries like Ecuador and Indonesia.

As the Global South develops, the demands on natural resources is expected to add to planetary stress as the Global North continues to push its own economic growth. This has led to a conflict in sustainable developments where the Global South with its rich rainforest canopy, is unjustifiably expected to become a carbon sink for the emissions of the Global North.

This has caused much debate within environmental circles where mitigation measures like carbon offsets in the REDD context are not delivering the results that the Global North wanted.

As the proposals to legislate imported deforestation runs through the regulatory channels in the EU, UK and US, it must be repeated that organized legal industries like palm oil, are a critical contributor to reducing forest loss in the Global South.

Developed countries could well provide the “loss and damage funds” to help poorer nations cope with climate change but financial assistance of this sort would only be a finger in the dike if poorer nations are denied the chance to prevent climate change with their own domestic initiatives.

Poverty the Root Cause of Deforestation

It is well known that poverty, is a root cause of tropical deforestation. Any ambition to reduce forest loss in tropical countries must acknowledge and act upon this fact.

The legislative actions proposed by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) under the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act, to deter commodity-driven illegal deforestation around the world are sound.

Illegal deforestation with poverty as the main driver in rainforest communities, must be tackled first and foremost in any second party ambition to protect forests.

This is supported by the proposed UK legislation which is seeking to establish a framework to tackle illegal deforestation through the due diligence measures in the Environment Act.

These are great first steps towards tackling deforestation in forest rich but poverty-stricken nations in the Global South. Detractors of these policies have failed to acknowledge that hunger drives desperation. The same detractors raised a ruckus when the Democratic Republic of Congo attempted to develop a palm oil industry. Their protests, effectively scared off foreign investors that could have played a critical role in developing a sustainable palm oil industry.

It is unfortunate that the gorillas in the DRC, may now be exposed to a graver threat as the government auctions off gas and oil blocks.

Could a robust palm oil industry that is legal and controlled by the country lead to a secure future for gorillas in the DRC?

The same question could be applied to Nigeria where the world’s rarest great ape, the Cross River gorilla, faces imminent threats to its existence. According to a report from Mongabay:

Poverty-fueled illegal logging and farming is behind much of the deforestation in ARFR. Resource wars have broken out between communities that have claimed the lives of more than 100, local sources say.

While this report names cocoa farming as a threat to the gorillas, the greater threat to them is posed by hunger which drives the bushmeat trade.

In stark comparison, the only great ape in Southeast Asia, the orangutans, are thriving with a last population count of 100,000 animals distributed between Indonesia and Malaysia, two of the world’s largest palm oil producers.

The remarkable survival of the orangutans in Southeast Asia can be attributed to the high yield of the oil palm oil tree where a single hectare, can provide not only for the farmer but for workers along its value chain in the fields and offices all the way down to the foreign exchequer.

The value of the palm oil industry in tropical forest conservation has long been presented by palm oil producing countries as essential to global sustainability. Its tiny footprint compared to other vegetable oils is clear indication that it has a critical role to play as a sustainable source of food and fuel.

(Selengkapnya dapat dibaca di Majalah Sawit indonesia, Edisi 132)