EU fuelling human right disaster in Indonesia

11 February 2008

Brussels, 11 February, 2008 - Palm oil production for food and agrofuels is resulting in widespread human rights abuses in Indonesia according to a report released today by a coalition of international environmental groups [1]. Losing Ground exposes the huge social problems being fuelled by EU targets to increase the use of agrofuels (often called biofuels) in transport. The report follows new research released last week which revealed that converting peatlands for palm oil in Indonesia releases 423 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels. [2]

Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe agrofuels campaigner said: "This report shows that as well as being bad for the environment, fuels from palm oil are a disaster for people. MEPs should listen to the evidence and reject the proposed 10 per cent target at the forthcoming debate on this in the European Parliament. Instead of introducing targets for more agrofuels the EU should insist that all new cars are designed to be much more efficient. Governments must also take a strong position against the target and do their bit to reduce transport emissions by improving public transport and making it easier for people to walk and cycle."

The report by Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch, and LifeMosaic reveals that oil palm companies often use violent tactics to grab land from indigenous communities with the collusion of the police and authorities. Previously self-reliant families, who were able to meet their own needs from the forest around them, complain of being tricked into giving up their land with the promise of jobs and new developments. Instead they end up locked into debt and poorly paid work, while the bounty of the rainforest is replaced with monotonous oil palm plantations. Pollution from pesticides, fertilisers and the pressing process is also leaving some villages without clean water.

The European Commission has recently proposed a target for 10 per cent of road transport fuel to come from agrofuels by 2020 in an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, despite mounting evidence that agrofuels fail to deliver such reductions. These targets will fuel a huge expansion in the amount of land used to grow oil palm. Friends of the Earth and LifeMosaic are calling on MEPs and Member States to reject the 10 per cent target when it comes before the European Parliament and Council this spring. To tackle transport pollution the EU should instead strengthen its proposals for mandatory emissions limits on all new cars. [3]

Since 2005, Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch and LifeMosaic have worked closely together on a project aimed at bringing impartial information to communities affected by oil palm plantations in Indonesia, enabling them to make informed decisions about their land and their futures. Losing Ground draws on community testimonies gathered during this project, new Sawit Watch data and previous research to provide an insight into the social, economic and cultural impacts of oil palm plantations.

Serge Marti from LifeMosaic, author of Losing Ground said: "Indonesia is a uniquely diverse country whose communities and environment are being sacrificed for the benefit of a handful of companies and wealthy individuals. This report should help the Indonesian government to recognise that there is a problem, and to step up efforts to protect the rights of communities. In Europe we must realise that encouraging large fuel companies to grab community land across the developing world is no solution to climate change. The EU must play its part by abandoning its 10 per cent target for agrofuels."

Abetnego Tarigan, deputy director of Sawit Watch said: "Oil palm companies have already taken over 7.3 million hectares of land for plantations, resulting in 513 ongoing conflicts between companies and communities. Given the negative social and environmental impacts of oil palm, Sawit Watch demands reform of the Indonesian oil palm plantation system and a re-think of plantation expansion plans."

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NOTES:

1. The full report is available online here.

The executive summary of the report is available online here.

2. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207140809.htm

3. The European Commission is proposing sustainability criteria for biofuels but they do not include any attempts to address the social impacts of biofuel production. This means that the EU's increased biofuel use will lead to more of the types of problems exposed in 'Losing Ground' as more land is converted to meet the increased demand for palm oil.

85 per cent of the world's palm oil is produced in plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. According to local government plans Indonesia alone plans a further 20million hectares of plantations by 2020 - an area the size of England, Holland and Switzerland combined. The oil palm industry says that plantation expansion is vital for economic development and methods used are both environmentally sustainable and benefit the local people. However in the resulting vast monoculture plantations little survives. Half the loss of orang-utans' habitat in the last decade has been linked to oil palm plantation expansion.

The deforestation and drainage of peat swamps for palm oil production has made Indonesia the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China.

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