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Seems some dispute on forestry is ongoing in DownUnder and SE-Asia...

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Issue date: 
October 27, 2010
Publisher Name: 
The Jakarta Globe
William Laurance
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Conservation Debate I: A Question of Credibility

William Laurance et al | October 27, 2010

As professional scientists employed by leading academic and research institutions, we are writing to alert the general public about some of the claims and practices being used by the World Growth Institute and International Trade Strategies, and their affiliated leadership.

WGI and ITS operate in close association. ITS is owned by Alan Oxley, an Australian industrial lobbyist, former trade representative and former ambassador who also heads WGI.

According to its Web site, ITS has “close associations” with several politically conservative US research organizations, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

In our personal view, WGI and ITS — which are frequently involved in promoting industrial logging and palm oil and wood pulp plantations internationally — have at times trodden a thin line between reality and a significant distortion of facts. Specifically, we assert:

  • ITS is closely allied with, and frequently funded by, multinational logging, woodpulp and palm oil corporations. The financial supporters of ITS include corporations producing paper and wood products under the aegis of Asian Pulp & Paper, among others.
  • Oxley and ITS have lobbied in favor of Rimbunan Hijau, one of the world’s largest industrial logging corporations. Rimbunan Hijau has been repeatedly criticized for its environmental and human-rights impacts in Papua New Guinea
  • WGI frequently lobbies public opinion on the behalf of Sinar Mas holdings, a conglomerate of mostly Indonesian logging, wood-pulp and oil palm companies that includes Golden Agri Resources, a Singapore-based firm.
  • One of these companies, known as Smart, could face expulsion by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry-led trade group, for “serious non-compliance with the RSPO Code of Conduct” with respect to its environmental and social sustainability guidelines.
  • In an interview with Malaysia’s The Star newspaper, in which he strongly advocated further palm oil expansion in that country, Oxley refused to answer a direct question as to whether he or WGI was supported by the Malaysian palm oil industry.
  • He dismissed this question as being “immaterial.” We believe that WGI’s financial supporters include many of the same industrial sectors for which WGI regularly advocates.
  • While routinely accusing several environmental organizations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of bias and scientific misrepresentation, WGI and ITS have, in our opinion, advanced a range of biased or distorted arguments themselves.

For example, consider an ostensibly “independent” audit from ITS that sought to exonerate Asian Pulp & Paper from claims of illegal and damaging logging practices in Sumatra.

This audit appears to be far from objective in scope, especially given the clear financial links between these two entities, which brings into question its claims to be “independent.”

Among other claims, the ITS audit broadly understates the scope and gravity of forest loss and degradation in Indonesia, despite the nation having among the world’s highest absolute rates of deforestation and being ranked 7th worst out of 200 nations in terms of net environmental damage.

It also suggests that the palm oil and pulp and paper industries are not important drivers of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia.

Yet recent research has demonstrated that much of the oil palm expansion in Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 came at the expense of native forests.

Moreover, the rapid expansion of pulp plantations is a serious driver of native-forest loss in both Sumatra and Kalimantan.

• A recent technical report by ITS concluded that “There is no evidence of substantial deforestation” in Papua New Guinea, a conclusion strongly at variance with quantitative, remote-sensing studies of forest conversion published in the refereed scientific literature.

• Reports from WGI and ITS routinely claim that newly established palm oil plantations sequester carbon more rapidly than do old-growth rainforests.

This claim, while technically correct, is a distraction from the reality that mature palm oil plantations store much less carbon than do old-growth rainforests.

• WGI, ITS and Oxley frequently invoke “poverty alleviation” as a key justification for their advocacy of palm oil expansion and forest exploitation in developing nations, and it is true that these sectors do offer significant local employment.

Yet forest loss and degradation also have important societal costs.

There are many examples in which local or indigenous communities in the tropics have suffered from large-scale forest loss and disruption, have had their traditional land rights compromised, or have gained minimal economic benefits from the exploitation of their land and timber.

• One of the most serious misconceptions being promulgated by WGI and ITS in our view is that “two-thirds of forest clearance is driven by low-income people in poor countries.”

In fact, the importance of industrial drivers of deforestation has risen dramatically in the past one to two decades.

These industrial drivers are largely responsible for the explosive expansion of roads in tropical frontier regions, which facilitates massive forest loss and degradation.

Such industries and their lobbyists also create great pressures on the governments of developing nations to allow access to their lands and natural resources, both via legal and illegal means.

Hence, a crucial and overarching cause of tropical forest loss and degradation today is increasing industrialization and globalization.

In summary, our goal is not to defend any environmental organization or to suggest that environmentally and socially equitable development is not an important objective for developing and transitional nations.

Nor do we dispute that palm oil plantations, when established on previously deforested or abandoned lands such that they do not contribute either directly or indirectly to deforestation, can have important economic benefits and largely acceptable environmental costs.

However, we do assert that a number of the key arguments of WGI, ITS and Oxley represent significant distortions, misrepresentations or misrepresentations of fact.

In other cases, the arguments they have presented amount to a “muddying of the waters,” which we argue is designed to defend the credibility of the corporations we believe are directly or indirectly supporting them financially.

As such WGI and ITS should be treated as lobbying or advocacy groups, not as independent research organizations, and their arguments weighted accordingly.

William F. Laurance, Ph.D.; Thomas E. Lovejoy, Ph.D.; Sir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VMH; Paul R. Ehrlich, Ph.D.; Georgina Mace, Ph.D., FRS, CBE; Peter H. Raven, Ph.D.; Susan M. Cheyne, Ph.D.; Corey J.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D.; Omar R. Masera, Ph.D.; Gabriella Fredriksson, Ph.D.; Barry W. Brook, Ph.D.; Lian Pin Koh, Ph.D.

Conservation Debate II: A Question of Growth

Alan Oxley | October 27, 2010

The refusal of the Indonesian government to allow Rainbow Warrior, dubbed by some as Greenpeace’s environmental warship, to dock in Indonesia recently, reveals a growing impatience in Southeast Asia toward the attitudes and methods of Western environmentalists.

There are two sources of disaffection. The first is disregard of the poor and economic growth.

The second is distortion of science to make a political case.

The declared aim of Greenpeace and WWF is to see an end to all conversion of forest to any other purpose everywhere. There is no scientific case for this and a powerful economic argument against.

World Growth joined the global debate to argue for solutions that respected action to reduce poverty, not displace it. This has drawn criticism, as we expected, and we welcome it.

At last the impact of green strategies on poverty is now on the table.

To those who argue that biodiversity is threatened unless all conversion of forest land ceases, we ask the questions: “What biodiversity is expressly protected by global cessation of conversion of forest land to other purposes and how is that biodiversity scientifically measured?”

To World Growth’s knowledge, no scientific analysis supporting this position has so far been produced.

However, one political effort has been made to set how much forest should be preserved globally to be able to protect current biodiversity.

Signatories to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity proposed at one point that 10 percent of the world’s forests needed to be set aside to protect biodiversity.

WWF has reported that that target has been met. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 21 percent of forest land in South and Southeast Asia has been set aside for biodiversity conservation (considerably more than the CBD’s proposed 10 percent).

The United Nations Environment Program has reported that 21 percent of tropical forests are in protected areas. In temperate forests the percentage is less than 13 percent, but even then we cannot be too precise.

For example, the FAO recently revised its deforestation figures for 2000-2005 downwards by more than 12 million hectares — half the area of Britain.

Two points to underline here are that plenty of forest land remains for productive activity and that globally the rate of deforestation is modest and declining.

The FAO reports the global deforestation rate has declined from 0.20 percent of forest land per annum to around 0.14 percent per annum over the past two decades.

This reflects historical and current empirical research on forests and economic development — that as societies become wealthier, deforestation slows, stops and eventually gives way to forest expansion.

That said, this is all educated guesswork. The technical basis of the measurement of global measure of forest cover could be significantly improved, and the FAO has been pressing for this to be done.

This would evidently be useful information. Instead of agitation for this from biodiversity activists and environmentalists, there is silence.

This is not surprising. Science is adduced to support a political case when it suits, not to establish facts.

Greenpeace and WWF have a long record between them of producing supposedly scientific reports where claims are not supported, even false and facts are misrepresented or distorted.

Greenpeace has been caught out twice in the last few months, producing heavily distorted reports about the pulp and palm oil industries.

WWF’s record is little better. It has made claims about the rate of burning down Indonesian forests which have been publicly demonstrated as wrong.

The London Telegraph dubbed as “Amazongate” revelations that WWF had produced supposedly science-based reports on the adverse impacts of forestry in Brazil which could not be supported.

There is a political campaign at work here. The aim is to brand the largest plantation operators in Indonesia as responsible for the bulk of the country’s deforestation.

The group of mostly biodiversity scientists who here challenge World Growth share that sentiment. It is not true.

The FAO routinely states that worldwide around two-thirds of forest land clearance is by the poor — to acquire fuel wood, to practice low-return agriculture or to acquire shelter.

The other third is converted to highly productive use — commercial agriculture (including palm oil) and forest plantations.

These activities are important contributors to economic growth. A large share of it is undertaken by large companies.

Most land clearing by the poor in most developing countries already flaunts local land use rules. It’s hard to see how a ban on deforestation driven by Western campaigners is going to make any difference.

The answer to this problem, as we have noted before, is the postulation by Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Price laureate, Wangari Maathai: End poverty.

It is the large corporations and the plantation industries which create the jobs which remove the incentive for the poor to clear land. Stopping corporations converting forest land to more productive uses removes the best tool (employment — and therefore food security) to stop wasteful conversion.

There has been a response to World Growth’s call to address poverty, but it borders on the disingenuous.

It was advanced by WWF and echoed by the biodiversity scientists that protection of the forest preserves the subsistence lifestyles of indigenous forest peoples.

But in fact, all this preserves is high rates of infant mortality, illiteracy and short life spans.

The forest dwellers might as well be in an open-range zoo established for the pleasure of environmental campaigners.

And how does that help the 40 million people in Indonesia still living below the poverty line?

Here, we arrive at the nub of World Growth’s position.

Apart from the fact that deforestation rates have been overstated, and that the leading cause has been misrepresented, humanitarianism dictates that we devise solutions to protect the environment without restricting our capacity to lift people out of poverty.

No reasonable person would object to that.

A reasonable person would, however, object if solutions to environmental problems exacerbated rather than improved the condition of the world’s poor, unless they elected to subscribe to sort of morally unacceptable strategies to reduce population, which has been entertained by one of our critics, biology professor Paul Ehrlich.

Alan Oxley is chairman of the Washington-based World Growth Institute and a managing consultant at International Trade Strategies in Melbourne.

This article was written in response to an open letter by 12 leading conservation scientists.

Conservation Debate III: A Rejoinder to Alan Oxley

William Laurance et al | November 01, 2010

Last week on these pages we wrote a serious critique of Alan Oxley and his affiliated organizations, World Growth International and ITS Global.

In his reply, Oxley countered virtually none of our specific, documented assertions. Instead, he has muddied the waters — focusing not on our assertions but on the views of environmental groups such as WWF and Greenpeace.

Oxley’s reply contains some important inaccuracies or misperceptions. Most notably, he understates the environmental impacts of oil palm expansion while ignoring its close linkages with the timber and wood-pulp industries and their collective roles in promoting tropical deforestation and frontier-road expansion. And he ignores entirely a vast body of scientific literature revealing the serious impacts of these industries on tropical biodiversity and greenhouse-gas emissions.

We stand by our original assertions. Alan Oxley, WGI and ITS rely on the direct financial support of major timber, oil palm and wood-pulp corporations. Over the past two decades, some of these corporations, such as Rimbunan Hijau and Asian Pulp & Paper, have been among the most chronic environmental offenders in the tropical world.

We assert that Oxley, WGI and ITS should be regarded as paid lobbyists, not as independent research organizations or NGOs. Oxley refuses to disclose the funders of WGI — a striking lack of transparency. Two environmental groups that Oxley frequently criticizes, WWF and Greenpeace, are open about their funders. Why not do the same?

The 12 scientists who drafted our original open letter did so without communicating with any environmental organization. Each of us is regarded as a leader in our respective field, and as such we felt a responsibility to take a stand.

Oxley, WGI and ITS seemingly attempt to cast all who disagree with them, no matter their professional background or the seriousness of their arguments, as extremists. In the realm of public discourse, this is not “fair play.”

William F. Laurance, PhD
Thomas E. Lovejoy, PhD
Sir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VMH
Paul R. Ehrlich, PhD
Georgina Mace, PhD, FRS, CBE
Peter H. Raven, PhD
Susan M. Cheyne, PhD
Corey J.A. Bradshaw, PhD
Omar R. Masera, PhD
Gabriella Fredriksson, PhD
Barry W. Brook, PhD
Lian Pin Koh, PhD


Extpub | by Dr. Radut