Quantcast

Palm Oil Company Ordered to Pay $30 Million for Illegal Rainforest Destruction

By Alicia Graef

An Indonesian court issued a big blow to a palm oil company for illegally destroying forest land in Sumatra’s protected Leuser Ecosystem, which provides critical habitat for orangutans and other endangered species.

In what’s being called a groundbreaking verdict, the court found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning large areas of the Tripa peat forest in the province of Aceh and ordered it to pay roughly $30 million in fines. An estimated $20 million was allocated for restoration efforts. The court also confiscated land and will be charging a fine for every day the palm oil company delays repayment, reports the Environmental News Service.

In 2011 the government placed a two year moratorium on logging in certain areas, but PT Kallista Alam still got a palm oil concession permit that year that it shouldn’t have, which was later revoked. The attention that the company brought to the area and the continued destruction by several other companies garnered protests from around the world and calls for greater protection for the peat swamp forests of Aceh, which include Tripa, Kluet and Singkil.

The case against against PT Kallista Alam was brought by the Ministry of Environment, and environmentalists are applauding its effort and the ruling. They believe it will send a strong message to other companies and hope it will mean improvements in law enforcement efforts to stop deforestation and protect biodiversity in an area that’s vitally important for the future survival of critically endangered orangutans, along with other species including Sumatran tigers and elephants, Malayan sun bears and rhinos.

“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh   (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).

For orangutans, efforts to protect the the Tripa peat forests and Leuser Ecosystem could be their last hope. There are only an estimated 6,500 orangutans left in Sumatra who continue to face threats from deforestation, habitat fragmentation caused by roads, the pet trade and being killed as pests. Conservationists from Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) estimate that as many as 100 of Tripa’s orangutans have been killed in fires so far.

“Tripa is one of only three remaining peat swamp forests left containing orangutans in Sumatra and its impossible to overstate the importance of protecting every last hectare of each of them,” said Dr. Ian Singleton, SOCP’s director, in a statement.

The Price of Palm Oil

According to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), nearly 90 percent of palm oil is now grown in Indonesia and Malaysia and the growing demand for it has caused the destruction of some of the Earth’s most valuable rainforests and continues to do so.

International companies continue to put palm oil that has been produced at the expense of the Tripa peat forest and other areas on the market, while its use as a key ingredient in a variety of foods has made it virtually inescapable. This past September RAN called out major food companies, otherwise known as the Snack Food 20, for not ensuring that their palm oil was conflict free.

While advocacy groups and consumers continue to pressure companies to do the right thing, environmentalists are still working to get tougher protection for the Earth’s irreplaceable rainforests.

The court ruling was a victory, but the Leuser Ecosystem is still in danger. The government is now under pressure to finalize a controversial and short-sighted spatial land use plan known as Qanun RTRW Aceh that would threaten Aceh’s protected forests by opening the door for palm oil and timber concessions, mining and the development of roads, which will fragment precious habitat, encourage development, cause more conflicts with wildlife and create more access to rare species for hunters.

Not only would this be a huge blow to orangutans and overall biodiversity, but it will also harm local communities. Environmentalists predict that further deforestation will lead to natural disasters that include more flash floods, landslides and erosion, in addition to destroying livelihoods of those that are forest-dependent and threatening the water supply that millions of people rely on for drinking and food production.

The plan also ignores the environmental and economic benefits that the Leuser Ecosystem provides. According to Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist with the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation, “For Aceh alone these have been valued in excess of 400 million dollars per year, and the region’s contribution to mitigating climate change, through its carbon sequestration function probably stretches into billions of dollars.”

Environmental and animal advocacy groups including RAN, SOCP, the PanEco Foundation and Humane Society International, among others, are now urging the government to reject this plan, in addition to urging Aceh’s governor to protect the Leuser Ecosystem as a whole by supporting its nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Leuser Ecosystem was recently named one of the world’s most irreplaceable places and the international community is fighting to ensure that it gets the protection it deserves.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15 in Paris, France. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

When Paris's Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Read More Show Less
An artist's impression of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Scientists have likely detected a so-called marsquake — an earthquake on Mars — for the first time, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Hero Images / Getty Images

Across the political aisle, a majority of American parents support teaching climate change in schools even though most teachers currently do not.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Priit Siimon / flickr / cc

By Andrea Germanos

Lawyer and visionary thinker Polly Higgins, who campaigned for ecocide to be internationally recognized as a crime on par with genocide and war crimes, died Sunday at the age of 50.

She had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer last month and given just weeks to live.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

An E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef has spread to 10 states and infected at least 156 people, CNN reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
The Anopheles stephensi mosquito, which carries malaria. CDC / Jim Gathany

The world's first malaria vaccine was launched in Malawi on Tuesday, NPR reported. It's an important day in health history. Not only is it the first malaria vaccine, it's the first vaccine to target any human parasite.

Read More Show Less