Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
This 2017 file photo shows the edge of recently cleared rainforest in Peru for a commercial oil palm estate.
John C. Cannon<p>Scientists at Monitoring the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) have been monitoring the situation for years. In 2018, MAAP released a baseline for oil palm deforestation driver. Their analysis found 86,600 hectares (214,000 acres) of oil palm, and of that deforestation included at least 31,500 hectares for new plantations. That's approximately the size of about 59,000 football fields.</p><p>The JUNPALMA agreement could be a key part of arresting that destruction. Those involved include Peru's Ministry of Agriculture, private companies in the palm oil sector, and NGOs. The full list of potential signatories has not yet been determined, according to NWF. </p><p>"There is a draft agreement that has been drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture, JUNPALMA and civil society," NWF's spokesperson Mike Saccone told Mongabay, noting that the agreement "serves as a roadmap towards a formal agreement."</p><p>He said that NWF doesn't anticipate that the agreement will be disruptive to domestic or international markets. "Any oil palm that is growing before the agreed cutoff date can be maintained in production, and opportunities to improve productivity on existing land can be promoted," he said. </p><p>Saccone added that the significant step for the palm oil industry and country should play out fairly smoothly. </p><p>"This is a first for Peru, and we don't see this getting stopped," Saccone said. "While the agreement would be a very new step…we don't anticipate any major problems in obtaining a signed agreement."</p>
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By Helen A. Lee
We cook with it. We bathe with it. We use it for mood lighting. Palm oil is an ingredient in processed foods, cosmetics, hygiene products, biofuels and candles; experts estimate it's found in 50 percent of the items on grocery store shelves. Inexpensive to produce, palm oil contains no trans fats, and has a high melting point, making it versatile and easy to spread. The result: increasing demand. In 1996, global production totaled 16 million metric tons. By 2017, it was 60.7 million.
From Virgin Forest to Grocery Store<p>The story of palm oil begins with clearing tropical rainforests and peatlands for plantations of oil palm trees, which thrive on warmth, sunlight, and copious rainfall. The trees — native to West Africa — produce clusters of orange-red fruit year-round, and can be harvested every 10–14 days when mature. For the most part, oil palms don't need much help, but some farms do use herbicides and insecticides. Oil palms produce 3.8 metric tons of oil per hectare annually — eight times as much as soybeans (.5 t/ha), and almost five times the yield of canola (.8 t/ha).</p><p>Palm fruit contains oil in its flesh (palm oil), and its seed (palm kernel oil). At <a href="http://www.fao.org/3/Y4355E/y4355e04.htm" target="_blank">diesel-powered</a> mills, fruit and kernels are pressed to extract oil. The next stop is often a refinery, where bleaching improves the oil's color, deodorization reduces its smell, and "fractionation" can create different oils suited for different purposes. Then, the oil is shipped all over the world.</p><p>The U.S. Department of Agriculture says palm oil is the most consumed oil in the world, and its non-food uses are also increasing. India, China, Europe and Pakistan are the top importers, collectively using <a href="https://www.theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Palm_Oil_Briefing_20190130_0.pdf" target="_blank">more than half of the global supply</a>. In Asia, it's used in home cooking. In Europe and the U.S., most demand comes from manufacturers for everything from Oreos to toothpaste. You can find it in Silk soy milk, Secret deodorant, Nutella, Jergens lotion, instant noodles and Girl Scout cookies.</p>
Palm Oil and Environmental Devastation<p>Malaysian and Indonesian plantations make up about 85 percent of the industry, with Guatemala, Benin and Thailand among the other top producers. Areas with low wages and abundant labor often welcome palm plantations — despite the industry's history of <a href="http://humanityunited.org/pdfs/Modern_Slavery_in_the_Palm_Oil_Industry.pdf" target="_blank">slavery, child labor</a>, and land-theft — because of their potential to lift workers out of poverty.</p><p>Around the world, the business of palm oil harms the environment. During conventional cultivation, forests are cleared for plantations, bringing biodiversity loss, human-wildlife conflict, and habitat destruction affecting many species, notably the orangutan. A <a href="https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2018-027-En.pdf" target="_blank">recent International Union for Conservation of Nature report</a> notes that 50% of all deforestation on Borneo between 2005 and 2015 was driven by palm oil development.</p><p>This deforestation also contributes to climate change; the conversion of forests to palm oil plantations releases carbon dioxide that had been absorbed by old-growth forests. The <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/global_warming/palm-oil-and-global-warming.pdf" target="_blank">Union of Concerned Scientists</a> estimated in 2013 that 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation.</p><p>These impacts have proven hard to combat, in part because palm oil is rarely the end commodity. Richard Zimmerman, executive director of New York-based non-profit Orangutan Outreach, calls it a "pervasive yet hidden" problem. Given all the chemicals, sugars, fats, and allergens shoppers are already trying to avoid, he said, "Palm oil is low on the list, if it's even on the list."</p><p>Palm oil and its derivatives appear under a multitude of monikers, from "palm kernel oil" and "partially hydrogenated palm oil" to "sodium lauryl sulfate" and "glyceryl stearate." Other names, according to the <a href="https://www.ran.org/the-understory/palm_oil_s_dirty_secret_the_many_ingredient_names_for_palm_oil/" target="_blank">Rainforest Action Network</a>, include "stearic acid," anything that includes "palmitate," and "elaesis guineensis" (the oil palm's Latin name). Try finding products in your grocery store without these. Not that all these terms always mean palm oil — some are occasionally derived from other oils. But companies likely can't guarantee that, and there's no way of knowing from reading a package.</p><p>So how do we change things? One group trying to answer that question is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a 4,000-member-strong <a href="https://rspo.org/" target="_blank">industry non-profit</a>. Its approach includes offering financial incentives to stakeholders along the supply chain in return for implementing best practices.</p><p>RSPO members must demonstrate that plantation land was purchased, not stolen, and that they offer safe conditions for workers. The RSPO prohibits clearing primary (never-logged) forests and imposes requirements like: obtaining free, prior, and informed consent from locals for new plantings; analyzing and protecting fragile soils and areas of high-conservation value; and mitigating carbon impacts in place.</p><p>But right now, only about 20 percent of palm oil is RSPO-certified, and critics think the group's approach still doesn't go far enough. Greenpeace's Senior Palm Oil Campaigner Diana Ruiz said investigations show that brands shift responsibility for palm oil sourcing problems onto traders, and traders don't enforce on their end. "Once you get … all the way to the grower, there is no monitoring being done," she says — and no good way to address violations.</p>
Beyond the produce section, palm oil can be found in almost everything in your grocery store, from from Oreos to toothpaste and beyond.
The Future of Palm Oil<p>Palm oil has a long supply chain, which makes reducing its use complex. "Historically, companies have not paid attention to what happens at the farm level, because [palm oil] is a secondary ingredient," said Neil Blomquist, a spokesperson for the education and advocacy group Palm Done Right.</p><p>That may be changing, as palm oil gets more publicity. Still, places where palm grows see a clear economic boom from the industry, and there's always a market for cheap consumables.</p><p>"It's a difficult industry to regulate for that reason," Blomquist said. "There's been a growing demand for palm oil, the lowest-cost oil that can be produced. So, increasing demand with an increasing population in the world is really what's driving the problems… with more and more rainforest being destroyed."</p><p>Ending the use of palm oil may not be the answer. "Going to a boycott could cause more problems," said Dan Strechay, the RSPO's US outreach and engagement representative. "Because if we don't buy palm oil — or ingredients that contain palm oil — it's not like we snap our fingers and we have additional materials to put in. Something else has to be grown to replace it, and other oil seeds may require more land."</p><p>But continuing as we are means ignoring the true costs of palm oil: to the environment and people living in palm-oil-producing areas. Said Zimmerman,"If the humans aren't doing well, the orangutans are not going to do well."</p><p>So, what do we do now? Eating fewer processed foods, buying locally, and otherwise voting with your dollars is a start. Keeping companies accountable for meeting their stated deadlines around sourcing sustainable palm oil is also key.</p><p>Ruiz says the next step is asking suppliers and traders to create more transparency around their reporting, and the public can help. "We have huge influence over these brands," she said. "The key here is to use that buying power we have as consumers and demand that companies do better."</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Lamfu Fabrice Yengong and Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue
Biodiversity loss is a global crisis. In May last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that over 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction worldwide. On May 22, the International Day of Biodiversity, it is important to recall the silent victims of our country's obsession for industrial growth at the expense of our forests.
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Satellite data collated for the World Resources Institute (WRI) showed primal rainforest was lost across 38,000 square kilometers (14,500 square miles) globally — ruining habitats and releasing carbon once locked in wood into the atmosphere.
Bolivia Has 80% Higher Loss<p>In its Global Forest Watch report, the WRI highlighted Bolivia, saying its removal of primary forest and surrounding woodlands — to produce soy and range cattle in 2019 — had been 80% higher than any of its previous years on record.</p><p>"Its highly biodiverse Chiquitano Dry Forest was particularly affected, with reports that nearly 12% of it burned," said the study.</p><p>Other countries with severe losses had been Peru, Malaysia and Colombia, followed by Laos, Mexico and Cambodia — from 1,620 square kilometers and 800 square kilometers in primal forest lost.</p><p><strong>Indigenous Rights Protect Forests Too</strong></p><p>WRI's Seymour said a "mounting body of evidence" suggested that legal recognition of indigenous land rights "provides greater forest protection:</p><p>"We know that deforestation is lower in indigenous territories," Seymour said.</p>
Pandemic Weakens Enforcement<p>The current Covid-19 pandemic had changed dynamics, said Weisse, weakening enforcement of forest-protection laws and leaving rural families desperate to feed themselves back home after losing jobs in cities.</p><p>In April, scientists grouped within the Global Carbon Project estimated that coronavirus-induced economic slowdowns would trim carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5% year-on-year.</p><p>It was "something not seen since the end of World War Two," said project chair Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, California.</p><p><span></span>But, recalling the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré at England's University of East Anglia, forecast in April that emissions were likely to rebound if structural changes were not instituted.</p>
Glasgow's COP26 Postponed<p>Last week, host Britain confirmed that UN climate talks due in Glasgow, known as COP26, had been postponed a year until between November 1 and 12 2021.</p><p>Experts involved in those long-running negotiations insist that global emissions must start dropping this year to avoid irreversible impacts, including polar melts, record hot weather, rogue storms, and ocean level rises.</p>
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By Ayat S. Karokaro and adapted by Basten Gokkon
Two Indonesian journalists who had reported on an illegal oil palm plantation in Sumatra while also allegedly trying to gain control of the crop have been found dead at the plantation.
An oil palm worker harvesting palm fruit at a plantation in North Sumatra. Nanang Sujana for RAN / Oppuk
Golfrid Siregar, left, protests against the proposed Batang Toru hydropower project, which threatens the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi)
Palm Oil importers in Europe will not be able to meet their self-imposed goal of only selling palm oil that is certified deforestation-free, according to a new analysis produced by the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition, as Bloomberg reported.
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Environmental activists in Indonesia have raised suspicions over the death this week of a human rights defender who was a staunch advocate of communities threatened by palm oil plantations.
Golfrid Siregar, center, and his colleagues show the lawsuit they filed against the North Sumatra government over an alleged forgery in the permitting process for a hydropower project in Batang Toru, Sumatra.
Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).<p><br>"We suspect the victim was beaten up at another location," Roy Lumbangaol, Golfrid's manager at Walhi, told reporters on Oct. 7. "To eliminate the evidence, he was brought to the location where he was eventually found."</p><p>Walhi has called on police to launch a thorough and transparent investigation into Golfrid's death. The group also asked the National Commission on Human Rights to monitor the police investigation.</p><p>Associates last had contact with Golfrid on the afternoon of Oct. 2, when he left home to deliver a package and have a meeting. By the evening, he couldn't be contacted. At 1 a.m. on Oct. 3, a rickshaw driver found his body on the overpass.</p><p>The police have said they will call in the rickshaw driver for further questioning and check footage from CCTV cameras installed near the location where Golfrid was found.</p><p><span></span>Golfrid was best known for his work with legal aid and civil society groups in helping local communities ensnared in land conflicts with palm oil companies.</p><p>His most recent work was on a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/allegation-of-forged-signature-casts-shadow-over-china-backed-dam-in-sumatra/" target="_blank">alleged forgery of a researcher's signature</a> in an environmental impact assessment for a proposed hydropower project. Activists say the planned dam would threaten the only known habitat of the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/11/the-eighth-great-ape-new-orangutan-species-discovered-in-sumatra/" target="_blank">Tapanuli orangutan</a> (<em>Pongo tapanuliensis</em>), a critically endangered species. According to Walhi, Golfrid had recently lodged a complaint to the National Police against the North Sumatra Police's decision to drop the investigation into the alleged forgery.</p><p>Golfrid's death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia. From 2010 to 2018, there were 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia, according to Ainul Yaqin from the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII). Most of the victims were environmental activists.</p><p>Earlier this year, the head of Walhi's West Nusa Tenggara chapter <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/arson-attack-leaves-activist-in-indonesia-shaken/" target="_blank">survived an arson attack</a> after assailants barricaded him inside his home and set it on fire.</p><p>"The struggle as human rights defenders will always continue," Walhi said in a <a href="https://walhi.or.id/pembela-hak-azasi-manusia-hrds-sumatera-utara-terindikasi-korban-percobaan-pembunuhan-meninggal-dunia" target="_blank">statement</a>.</p>
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By Hans Nicholas Jong
Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.
It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."
Fires engulf a palm oil plantation in Rokan Hilir district, Riau, Indonesia.
Zamzami / Mongabay Indonesia
Iban dugout canoes on the Utik river in Sungai Utik's customary forest in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.
Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
Mangrove forests on Bungkutoko Island in Southeast Sulawesi province, Indonesia.
Kamarudin for Mongabay Indonesia
A birdwatching guide in West Papua, Indonesia. Tourism can bring money into local communities and give an incentive to conservation.
Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
Drained, cleared and burned peat forest in Indonesian Borneo.
Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
By Joe Sandler Clarke
"Don't expect us to continue buying European products," Malaysia's former plantations minister Mah Siew Keong told reporters in January last year. His comments came just after he had accused the EU of "practising a form of crop apartheid."
A few months later Luhut Pandjaitan, an Indonesian government minister close to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, warned his country would retaliate if it was "cornered" by the EU.
Art direction: Georgie Johnson. Illustration: Freya Morgan
Farmworkers feed the world. This is the rallying cry of the Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), an organization that works with students, advocates, and farmworkers across the United States to create a more just agricultural system. The crucial contribution that farmworkers make to the food system has only heightened amid the C0VID-19 pandemic, as farmworkers are among the list of critical positions that the United States Department of Homeland Security encouraged to continue a normal working schedule.
1. American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)<p>The AFL-CIO is the largest U.S. based federation of unions that protects the rights of workers in a variety of industries, including food and agriculture. They take action to prevent child labor in agriculture, support diversity in farming and land access, improve farm and food worker wages, ensure overtime pay, and fight for immigration policies that help agricultural workers attain employment security.</p>
2. Center for Good Food Purchasing<p>The Center for Good Food Purchasing encourages large institutions to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) – an initiative that facilitates shifts in institutional food purchasing toward local food economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition. Implementation of the GFPP is currently being carried out in multiple cities and school districts across the U.S.</p>
3. Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)<p>The CIW is a worker rights organization that exemplifies the power of farmworker community organizing. Their internationally recognized Worker-driven Social Responsibility paradigm led to significant advances in human rights within corporate supply chains. Through this approach, the CIW successfully negotiated agreements that improved worker labor standards and wages with Whole Foods, McDonald's, Subway, and Walmart through its Fair Food Program focused on Florida tomato growers.</p>
4. Community Alliance for Global Justice (CAGJ)<p>CAGJ is a grassroots organization based in Seattle, WA that aims to strengthen local economies by transforming unjust trade and agricultural policies. Through community education, grassroots organizing, research and analysis, and media outreach they support healthy local food economies in which optimal labor rights are achieved.</p>
5. Fairfood International<p>Fairfood international works to create a food system in which value is distributed along the supply chain proportionally and food is produced with the wellbeing of people, animals, and the planet in mind. By advancing supply chain transparency they help the agri-food sector identify improvements in sustainability and solutions for the payment of a living wage in supply chains.</p>
6. Fair World Project (FWP)<p>FWP is a global organization devoted to promoting fair trade for small producers and labor justice for workers. They emphasize that unfair trade policies and corporate-friendly business practices continue to harm people and the planet. Their solution is to educate and advocate for a just global economy that respects the environment and they have <a href="https://fairworldproject.org/take-action/fair-food/" target="_blank">active campaigns</a> supporting coffee, melon, and cocoa farmers and farmworkers.</p>
7. Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)<p>FLOC is a labor union affiliated with the AFL-CIO that aims to give farmworkers a voice in the decisions that affect their economic security and wellbeing. Baldemar Velasquez founded the organization in 1967 and built it into a more than 20,000-member strong organization that mobilizes, educates, and trains farmworkers to advocate for their labor rights.</p>
8. Farmworker Justice<p>Farmworker Justice seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to achieve fair wages, occupational safety, immigration status, and improved overall living and working conditions. They frequently engage with government officials and administrative agencies to advocate for improvements in U.S. labor laws, guest worker programs, and clearer paths to U.S. citizenship for the <a href="https://www.farmworkerjustice.org/advocacy-and-programs/agjobs" target="_blank">approximately 1.25 million seasonal workers</a> on U.S. farms and ranches that lack authorized immigration status.</p>
9. Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA)<p>The Food Chain Workers Alliance is a Los Angeles, California based coalition of worker rights organizations. They advocate for improved wages and working conditions for the people who plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food. The FCWA also leverages the Good Food Purchasing Program as a tool to win fair wages and improve working conditions within institutional supply chains.</p>
10. International Labor Organization (ILO)<p>The ILO is a United Nations agency devoted to promoting social justice and ensuring that internationally recognized human and labor rights are upheld. Their <a href="http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/decent-work/lang--en/index.htm" target="_blank">Decent Work Agenda</a> focuses on working with stakeholders in their 187 member states to set labor standards and develop policies and programs that support decent work, fair globalization, and poverty reduction.</p>
11. La Via Campesina<p>La Via Campesina is an international coalition of organizations that defend food sovereignty as a way to promote social justice and worker dignity. They built a movement that amplifies the voices of smallholder peasant farmers and aims to decentralize the power of corporate driven agriculture, which they argue is destructive to the environment and social relations.</p>
12. Migrant Justice<p>The mission of Migrant Justice is to strengthen the capacity and power of the farmworker community to collectively organize for economic justice and human rights. By investing in leadership development, Migrant Justice enhances farmworker community members' skills in community organizing and capacity to produce systemic change. Among their accomplishments is the <a href="https://migrantjustice.net/victory" target="_blank">Milk with Dignity</a> agreement with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, an industry contract to implement a worker-driven social responsibility program.</p>
13. Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA)<p>As an organization led by fisherfolk, NAMA was founded to promote healthy and economically secure fisheries and fishing communities. Their organizing efforts extend beyond human rights to include sustainability efforts that ensure the long-term resilience of marine food systems and the promotion of equitable access to fair markets for small and medium-scale community-based fisherfolk.</p>
14. Oxfam International<p>Oxfam international operates in more than 90 countries and is centrally focused on ending the injustice of global poverty. They place a large emphasis on food and farming in their work because they <a href="https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/issues/food-farming-and-hunger/" target="_blank">note</a> that three-fourths of the world's hungry people live in rural areas, many of whom are farmers, fishers, herders, and laborers. Through Oxfam's <a href="https://www.behindthebrands.org/" target="_blank">Behind the Brands Campaign</a>, consumers can track major food brand's progress in supporting farmworkers and the planet.</p>
15. Solidarity Center<p>The Washington, D.C. based Solidarity Center is an international organization partnering with over 400 labor unions and human rights organizations in 60 countries to support workers' rights. Seafood, agriculture, and food processing are among the many industries that they aim to effect change in by providing technical and legal expertise, bolstering union's advocacy efforts, connecting workers to protective networks, and more.</p>
16. Teamsters<p>Teamsters is one of North America's most diverse labor unions, representing workers in a wide range of industries from sanitation workers in New York to vegetable growers in California. The organization supports workers in advocating for contracts that ensure fair wages, health coverage, job security, paid time-off and retirement income. Once these contracts are negotiated, Teamsters works to hold companies accountable by invoking contract grievance procedures if necessary.</p>
17. United Farmworkers of America (UFW)<p>National Farmworker Awareness week ends on a day commemorating the founder of UFW, Cesar Chavez, because the organization is the nation's first union explicitly for farmworkers. Their work to protect labor rights in the agricultural sector continues today as they have facilitated dozens of UFW union contract victories that secured farmworkers' rights including fair wages, overtime pay, protections from occupational health hazards, and more.</p>
18. Walk Free<p>Walk free tackles one of the world's most complex and prevalent human rights issues—modern slavery. They devote resources and collaborative organizing efforts to drive behavior and legislative changes that liberate people trapped in slavery. They also conduct research to build a comprehensive database of the estimated <a href="https://www.minderoo.org/walk-free/#overview" target="_blank">44 million people</a> living in modern slavery and have campaigned to protect children working in the chocolate industry as well as farmworkers in the palm oil industry.</p><p>Farmworkers truly are the backbone of our food system and these 18 organizations work to ensure that their rights are being adequately met or exceeded. By continuing to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, farmworkers are risking their health to prevent disruptions in the food supply. National Farmworker Awareness Week provides a time to reflect on the contributions farmworkers make to society and raise awareness about the issues they continue to grapple with, especially in the face of global pandemic.</p><p>Student Action with Farmworkers has a number of <a href="https://saf-unite.org/content/national-farmworker-awareness-week" target="_blank">resources</a> and to help individuals and organizations engage in the 21st Annual National Farmworker Awareness week from March 25-31, 2020.</p>
The UK government is looking to take charge of a major crackdown on the illegal and largely unregulated plundering of forests in developing nations. The UK plans to form a coalition of developing countries to combat the practice as part of its duties as host of the UN's COP26 climate summit in November, as The Guardian reported.