Taking the Poss(ibility)


Time to stand up and be counted – Dollars or DoGoods?

In a country in central Africa they have just given a lease to an oil palm production company on land previously assigned as a logging concession. The loggers have come and gone, extracting the valuable trees and leaving the area to regenerate. 60,000 hectares of land is being cleared. And when I say ‘cleared’, I mean this literally. Every remnant of forest – saplings, shrubs, vines, undergrowth – is being taken out and either burned, shredded or chopped into small pieces. The forest is gone. In a country where it normally takes years to agree ‘development’, this agreement was rushed through in under twelve months

60,000 hectares of oil palm will sequester around 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 in its ten-year lifespan. Secondary forest left on its own would sequester around 12 million tonnes. Over three times as much. Oil palm is one of the least important plants in terms of sequesters of carbon. Add to that the emissions due to the burning of the secondary forest. A conservative guess is that 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and carbon particles will be released


Before


After

This same country is a signatory to the Paris Agreement and recently updated its committed to addressing climate change at COP26, as the world faces up to the reality that we may well be on the road to extinction unless we can change, collectively. It is also demanding international aid to help it meet its agreements, through mechanisms such as REDD+ and the carbon offsets market, where private sector business purchase ‘credits’ resulting from efforts to address climate change; protecting forests is one such strategy.


There is one crucial difference between supporting forest regeneration and accessing carbon credits, or using the same land to produce palm oil, and that is where the money goes. Mechanisms such as carbon credit revenue goes to stakeholders, including local people undertaking the remedial work. Oil palm revenues go to the owners of the business. With the size of the profits being made, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to consider that the decision to plant oil palms was made at ‘senior level’, with dollars put before doing good. But nobody knows for sure who is behind the business.


The argument for palm oil is that it delivers much needed revenue for a poor country to develop. Perhaps. But in this case there was no independent Environmental Impact Assessment carried out pre-production, no Offset Programme to address the social and environmental damage, and the plantation itself borders onto a National Park that is a refuge for approximately 500 forest elephants; it also home to gorillas, chimpanzees and giant pangolins – all identified as critically endangered (www.redlist.org). No wonder the elephants are coming into conflict with local people. Last week a villager was attacked by a wild buffalo; previously the two could avoided each other if the secondary forest was still there; it hadn’t happened prior to the forest being obliterated

This is an example of the problem that faces us all. In essence, it is an outright war between self-orientated capitalists, powerful elite and those who put Dollars before all else – including human survival - and those who fight to prevent them wiping out the world as we know it. Coming face to face to reality it doesn’t give me much faith that the DoGoods will win.