Greenpeace and RSPO clash over forest fires

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Haze from the fires engulfed Singapore - and much of Southeast Asia - earlier this year
Haze from the fires engulfed Singapore - and much of Southeast Asia - earlier this year

Related tags: Palm oil, Greenpeace

Food companies that only use certified sustainable palm oil have been accused of “certifying destruction”, according to a Greenpeace report released to coincide with the first European Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) summit in Berlin this week.

The report​ claims that 39% of the forest fires that swept across Sumatra this summer to clear land for palm oil plantations occurred on RSPO members’ land, despite a requirement that members adopt a no burning policy.

“Year after year, Indonesia’s forest fires and haze wreak havoc on the region, and the palm oil sector is a main culprit,”​ said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace International’s Indonesia Forest Campaign. “While RSPO members might have no-fire policies, the peatland they have cleared and drained is like a tinderbox – one spark is all it takes.”

Greenpeace said it had approached more than 250 companies to ask how they ensured their supply chains were not linked to forest destruction, and found nearly all of them relied on RSPO standards. The campaigning organisation has urged companies to go further through the recently set up Palm Oil Innovation Group, an initiative founded by NGOs and palm oil companies, which pledges no planting on peat, among other measures that build on RSPO requirements.

Map confusion

However, the RSPO questioned the report’s accuracy. It said that there were discrepancies between the maps used by Greenpeace to define concession boundaries and those used by the RSPO.

“We found that there were no two maps that could agree,”​ said RSPO secretary general Darrel Webber in an opening address at the Berlin summit on Tuesday. “Maps used by NGOs were very different from our maps.”

"The RSPO received names of 5 member companies from Greenpeace,”​ the organisation said via email. “Upon immediate reviews, it was confirmed that 2 members had no fires within their concessions and 3 others with hotspots. The discrepancy of hotspots analysis is because the concession maps provided by Greenpeace differed from the maps which should be the accurate base for reference (HGU boundaries / Business Use Rights).

"We have advised Greenpeace several times on the use of incorrect reference maps and for stronger accountability towards reliable information in the public domain. We would like to suggest that prior to publishing any information, Greenpeace continues to refer back to the RSPO, who is also proactively tracking and monitoring this matter."

Speaking during a panel discussion at the RSPO European Summit in Berlin, Greenpeace forest campaigner Jerome Frignet agreed that greater transparency was needed about concession boundaries, but said that Greenpeace stood by its findings.

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