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Peatlands, pledges and palm oil

by Francesca Ward

As fires burn in Indonesia, at least half the palm oil supply chain remains without commitments on peatlands – a vital step for public health and a stable climate.

The Southeast Asian haze crisis has caused chaos in this particularly dry El Niño year. Yet amidst the smog, the underlying causes of the annual fires remain as clear as ever: failure by companies to protect peatlands, coupled with slash and burn forest clearance techniques. Protecting peatlands is vital both for their function as important habitats and as huge stores of carbon – emissions from burning peatlands in Indonesia this year are estimated to have already exceeded Germany’s annual CO2 emissions.

Peatland destruction is often linked to commodity production in Indonesia and Malaysia. Across the supply chain of palm oil, a key driver of peatland conversion, the 2015 Forest 500 analysis finds that the strength of corporate commitments to protect peatlands fluctuates. 50% of Forest 500 palm oil producers have a policy in place to exclude development on peatlands or high carbon stock areas. This figure stands at 30% for traders; 40% for processors; and 30% for retailers.

While it is encouraging that half of producers have made public commitments on protecting peatlands – a figure that might have been just a handful a few short years ago – clearly there is much work to be done both to bring laggards to the table, and to translate these emerging commitments into firm action on the ground.

Image: glennhurowitz 2012 via flickr.comcreative commons licence