Quote from article 1.: "Peat material in Borneo, for example, stores the equivalent of about nine years worth of global fossil fuel emissions."
Public release date: 30-Apr-2009
Contact: Sarah DeWitt
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA study says climate adds fuel to Asian wildfire emissionsIn the last decade, Asian farmers have cleared tens of thousands of square miles of forests to accommodate the world's growing demand for palm oil, an increasingly popular food ingredient. Ancient peatlands have been drained and lush tropical forests have been cut down. As a result, the landscape of equatorial Asia now lies vulnerable to fires, which are growing more frequent and having a serious impact on the air as well as the land.
A team of NASA-sponsored researchers have used satellites to make the first series of estimates of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from these fires -- both wildfires and fires started by people -- in Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea. They are now working to understand how climate influences the spread and intensity of the fires.
Using data from a carbon-detecting NASA satellite and computer models, the researchers found that seasonal fires from 2000 to 2006 doubled the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the Earth to the atmosphere above the region. The scientists also observed through satellite remote sensing that fires in regional peatlands and forests burned longer and emitted ten times more carbon when rainfall declined by one third the normal amount. The results were presented in December 2008 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Tropical Asian fires first grabbed the attention of government officials, media, and conservationists in 1997, when fires set to clear land for palm oil and rice plantations burned out of control. The fires turned wild and spread to dry, flammable peatlands during one of the region's driest seasons on record. By the time the flames subsided in early 1998, emissions from the fires had reached 40 percent of the global carbon emissions for the period.
"In this region, decision makers are facing a dichotomy of demands, as expanding commercial crop production is competing with efforts to ease the environmental impact of fires," said Jim Collatz, an Earth scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a co-author of the study. "The science is telling us that we need strategies to reduce the occurrence of deforestation fires and peatlands wildfires. Without some new strategies, emissions from the region could rise substantially in a drier, warmer future."
Since the 1997 event, the region has been hit by two major dry spells and a steady upswing in fires, threatening biodiversity and air quality and contributing to the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere. As more CO2 is emitted, the global atmosphere traps more heat near Earth's surface, leading to more drying and more fires.
Until recently, scientists knew little about what drives changes in how fires spread and how long they burn. Collatz, along with lead author Guido van der Werf of Vrije University, Amsterdam, and other colleagues sought to estimate the emissions since the devastating 1997-98 fires and to analyze the interplay between the fires and drought.
They used the carbon monoxide detecting Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument on NASA's Terra satellite -- as well as 1997-2006 fire data and research computer models -- to screen for and differentiate between carbon emissions from deforestation versus general emissions. Carbon monoxide is a good indicator of the occurrence of fire, and the amounts of carbon monoxide in fire emissions are related to the amount of carbon dioxide. They also compared the emissions from different types of plant life (peat land vs. typical forest) by examining changes in land cover and land use as viewed by Terra's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectradiometer (MODIS) and by Landsat 7.
Collatz explained that two climate phenomena drive regional drought. El Niño's warm waters in the Eastern Pacific change weather patterns around the world every few years and cause cooler water temperatures in the western Pacific near equatorial Asia that suppress the convection necessary for rainfall. Previously, scientists have used measurements from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission satellite to correlate rainfall with carbon losses and burned land data, finding that wildfire emissions rose during dry El Niño seasons. The Indian Ocean dipole phenomenon affects climate in the Indian Ocean region with oscillating ocean temperatures characterized by warmer waters merging with colder waters to inhibit rainfall over Indonesia, Borneo, and their neighbors.
"This link between drought and emissions should be of concern to all of us," said co-author Ruth DeFries, an ecologist at Columbia University in New York. "If drought becomes more frequent with climate change, we can expect more fires."
Collatz, DeFries, and their colleagues found that between 2000 and 2006, the average carbon dioxide emissions from equatorial Asia accounted for about 2 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and 3 percent of the global increase in atmospheric CO2. But during moderate El Niño years in 2002 and 2006, when dry season rainfall was half of normal, fire emissions rose by a factor of 10. During the severe El Niño of 1997-1998, fire emissions from this region comprised 15 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and 31 percent of the global atmospheric increase over that period.
"This study not only updates our measurements of carbon losses from these fires, but also highlights an increasingly important factor driving change in equatorial Asia," explained DeFries. "In this part of Asia, human-ignited forest and peat fires are emitting excessive carbon into the atmosphere. In climate-sensitive areas like Borneo, human response to drought is a new dynamic affecting feedbacks between climate and the carbon cycle."
In addition to climate influences, human activities contribute to the growing fire emissions. Palm oil is increasingly grown for use as a cooking oil and biofuel, while also replacing trans fats in processed foods. It has become the most widely produced edible oil in the world, and production has swelled in recent years to surpass that of soybean oil. More than 30 million metric tons of palm oil are produced in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, and the two countries now supply more than 85 percent of global demand.
The environmental effects of such growth have been significant. Land has to be cleared to grow the crop, and the preferred method is fire. The clearing often occurs in drained peatlands that are otherwise swampy forests where the remains of past plant life have been submerged for centuries in as much as 60 feet of water. Peat material in Borneo, for example, stores the equivalent of about nine years worth of global fossil fuel emissions.
"Indonesia has become the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China, due primarily to these fire emissions," Collatz said. "With an extended dry season, the peat surface dries out, catches fire, and the lack of rainfall can keep the fires going for months."
Besides emitting carbon, the agricultural fires and related wildfires also ravage delicate ecosystems in conservation hotspots like the western Pacific island of Borneo, home to more than 15,000 species of plants, 240 species of trees, and an abundance of endangered animals.
Smoke and other fire emissions also regularly taint regional air quality to such a degree that officials have to close schools and airports out of concern for public health and safety. Peat fires also aggravate air pollution problems in this region because they release four times more carbon monoxide than forest fires. In 1997, air pollution from the fires cost the region an estimated $4.5 billion in tourism and business.
Written by: Gretchen Cook-Anderson
NASA Earth Science News team
Leading article: An oil shock we cannot ignore
Friday, 1 May 2009
There is no shortage of ways to measure the cost of palm oil. First there is the catastrophic impact on the wildlife of Malaysia and Indonesia, whose rainforests are being cleared to grow the crop. The habitat of endangered species, from orangutans to Sumatran tigers, is being torn down at a terrifying rate to make room for the fertile oil palms.
Then there is the destruction on the livelihoods of those tribes which have traditionally lived in these ancient forests. Last, but far from least, the forest clearances, to make room for palm oil plantations, are a significant contributor to the dangerous warming of the planet. The destruction of the planet's rainforests is responsible for a fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. The unsustainable expansion of the palm oil industry might seem like a problem about which we in faraway Britain have no connection. But now an investigation by this newspaper has demonstrated how closely we are involved. The Independent has established that a host of the food products on sale in our supermarkets are made using the cheap vegetable oil.
The seminal 2006 Stern report into the economics of climate change argued that the first policy response of all governments to the threat of rising carbon emissions should be to stop deforestation. Most of the measures proposed to combat change in the West, from carbon capture to electric cars, will prove meaningless if we fail to deal with this fundamental source of carbon emissions. The only hope is for the richer half of the world to transfer resources to countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil to encourage forms of development that do not involve rainforests clearances.
Such a plan will be on the table at the United Nations climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December; another reason that meeting needs to succeed. But it would also help, in the meantime, if those of us in the developed world avoid the food products that are made with palm oil. The destruction wrought by the palm oil industry is no longer a distant problem. Its bitter fruits can be found in our shopping trolleys. We need to send a clear message to the food industry by removing them without delay.
Victims of the oil rushBritish consumers are fuelling the rising demand for palm oil, speeding up the destruction of rainforests and killing off orangutans
Friday, 1 May 2009
A cooking oil that is driving the destruction of the rainforests, displacing native people and threatening the survival of the orangutan is present in dozens of Britain's leading grocery brands, an investigation by The Independent has found.
Palm oil – blamed for a tree-felling rampage in south-east Asia – is present or suspected in 43 of 100 best-selling brands in UK, far more than the one in 10 products estimated by Friends of the Earth four years ago.
Palm oil is present in Hovis and Kingsmill bread, the country's best-selling margarine Flora, KitKat and Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars, as well as Dove soap, Comfort fabric conditioner and Persil washing powder.
The research – the first time palm oil, which is usually labelled as "vegetable oil", has been definitively quantified in British products – comes amid a surge in demand for the world's cheapest cooking oil.
The United Nations Environment Programme believes palm oil is the major driver of deforestation in the vast islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Hundreds of thousands of acres of forest are cleared to make way for plantations from which 90 per cent of wildlife disappear, including the orangutan, which is fighting a losing battle against extinction. Orangutan numbers have dwindled by 90 per cent since 1900, with the rate of loss accelerating in recent decades.
Emissions from the chainsawed peat-rich forests of Indonesia (which owns Sumatra and half of Borneo) are also thought to generate 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
At present only 4 per cent of palm oil production is certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (Rspo), meaning that the vast majority of global supply is linked to the forest gold rush. All companies contacted by The Independent said they were talking to suppliers about moving to a sustainable supply.
However most of them – including Cadbury, Kellogg's Nestlé, Mars and Heinz – have set no date for the process. Nestlé said: "Nestlé shares concerns about the serious environmental threat to rainforests in south-east Asia and supports an end to deforestation. Palm oil is not a major raw material and... the company's use of palm oil has been declining somewhat."
Mars said: "We do use palm oil in our chocolate, but only work with suppliers who respect the environment and are committed to working with all stakeholders to make progress towards sustainable production."
WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, called on manufacturers to start matching rhetoric with reality by buying sustainable oil, which costs between 10 and 35 per cent more than ordinary supplies which are mixed at refineries.
Jan Kees Vis, Rspo chairman, said that manufacturers did not want to pay more for a hidden ingredient. "The volume of certified palm oil traded is disappointingly low so far, the reason for this being that many companies are not prepared to pay a premium for certified oil," he told The Independent.
Originating in West Africa, palm oil has become a £14bn-a-year industry. Some 38 million tonnes are produced annually. Manufacturers use the oil to bind and bulk out chocolate, biscuits, bread and margarine and to give a creamy consistency to soaps.
About 85 per cent of the global supply comes from Borneo and Sumatra, where corruption is rife and where incursions into the forests are enforced by gun-toting security guards.
Satellite pictures have shown the rapid loss of the islands' rainforests, which, in addition to the orangutan, contain endangered species such as the clouded leopard, Sumatran tiger, and sun bear. Survival International, the London-based human rights group, says that palm oil producers supplying world markets are evicting indigenous people such as the Penan in Borneo from their land. In an interview taped earlier this year in Borneo, a Penan villager recalled:
"There were no official discussions. The company just moved in and put up signs saying the government had given them permission to plant oil palm on our land. The manager promised he would pay us whatever we wanted. But we already know that the companies lie... If oil palm is planted, we will lose our land... there will be no more forest."
Global demand for palm oil is rising at between 6 and 10 per cent a year. Although yields could be raised to meet the demand, suppliers have a financial incentive to chop down forest for hardwoods for furniture, which subsidises the plantations before the first oil is produced.
If current rates of logging continue, the UN Environment Programme estimates that 98 per cent of forests in Indonesia may be destroyed by 2020.
Around 16 per cent of global palm oil arrives in the EU. Companies often refuse to disclose whether their products contain palm oil.
However, after piecing together information from the companies, The Independent has established that palm oil is contained or suspected in 43 of the Top 100 grocery brands. Of the nation's £16bn spending on the top 100 brands, £5.5bn goes on brands which contain, or are suspected to contain, the oil. Thirty-three out of 62 food brands contain palm oil.
Only a few British firms, including Unilever and Sainsbury's, have bought large amounts of Rspo-certified oil.
Green Palm, a Hull-based company which trades Rspo certificates, says it has struggled to find corporate buyers. The Food and Drink Federation said the UK was "a small player in the complex global market for palm oil", importing only 1.2 per cent of the annual crop for manufacture here.
Andy Tait, Greenpeace's forests campaigner, said: "If you buy products from Unilever or Nestlé, ask what measures they are taking to remove unsustainable palm oil from their supply chain. Public pressure makes companies change."
Ancient oil: Modern uses
* Palm oil is made from the fruit and seeds of the oil palm (elaeis guineensis), an edible plant long used as a cooking oil by villagers in West Africa, which now has a wide range of industrial applications.
* Palm oil is so prized because in addition to being the world's cheapest, it is "uniquely fractionable". Chemical processes can separate solid (stearin) and liquid (olein). Manufacturers use the versatile oil in a wide range of foods and household products and, increasingly and controversially, it is used as a biofuel.
Household names: Big brands and palm oil
Kellogg's (US) Uses palm oil in 50 products, mostly cereal bars but also cereals such as Special K and Crunchy Nut, where it binds together clusters. Does not buy sustainable palm oil.
Cadbury (UK) Pours palm oil into chocolate bars, including Cadbury Dairy Milk, where it is listed as vegetable oil. Uses 40,000 tonnes a year, none certified as sustainable.
Mars (US/UK) Uses palm oil in Mars Bars, Galaxy and Maltesers, where it is labelled "vegetable fat". Does not buy sustainable palm oil. Says it wants to.
Procter & Gamble (US) Makes Ariel, Daz and Fairy Liquid, where use of palm oil is suspected but unproven. Says it will have a sustainable supply by 2015.
Unilever (UK) World's biggest user of palm oil, which is found in Flora margarine, Pot Noodle, Comfort and Persil. Buys 1.6m tonnes a year – 4.2 per cent of global production. Acknowledging the damage to its reputation and the environment, Unilever set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
Kraft (US) Says it does not use palm oil in Dairylea cheese but does in other products. Buys half a per cent of global supply. Says it will move to sustainable palm oil by 2015.
Heinz (US) Uses palm oil to fry potatoes for Aunt Bessie's Potatoes, which it makes under licence.
United Biscuits (UK) Uses palm oil across its range including McVitie's Digestives and McCoy's crisps. Says it is reducing quantities.
Nestle (Swiss) Palm oil in KitKat, Quality Street, Aero and other brands.
Premier Food (UK) Uses in Hovis, Mr Kipling Cakes, Bisto Gravy and Cadbury cakes (made under licence). Hopes to move to a certified sustainable supply by 2011.
Pepsico (US) Makes Walker's crisps. Has one of the best corporate policies, only using palm oil in Quaker Oat Granola and Nobby's Nuts. Intends to phase out use on those two products.
Lone Droscher-Nielsen: The destruction of the rainforests amounts to orangutan genocide
Friday, 1 May 2009
My biggest wish is that people in the western world could understand what is happening here in Borneo, and how the demand for palm oil is devastating the rainforests and contributing to the extinction of the orangutan. Forests are being destroyed at the rate of an area roughly the size of two football fields every minute in the country, contributing massively to climate change and driving the orangutan closer to extinction with the loss of every acre. Orangutans are so much like us, yet we humans are killing them by the thousand. To me that is genocide and it has to stop.
Orangutans are among our closest relatives. They demonstrate a high level of intelligence and an ability to solve problems, and there is an immensely strong bond between mother and child that lasts for the first eight years of a baby orangutan's life. They are also key indicators to the health of the rainforests. Their place in the ecosystem is vital and yet still the demand for palm oil continues. Is nobody listening?
There is no need for this continual destruction of the rainforests for oil-palm plantations. There is already open grassland that can be used for this purpose, but we need pressure from the international community and to educate people about the dangers to our environment that is being caused by the world's consumption of palm oil.
Rainforests aren't just beautiful, they are there for a purpose. They help control the climate by absorbing carbon dioxide, prevent drought because they're an important part of the water cycle, and help put a check on soil erosion. But they are also home to 420 species of birds, 210 species of mammals, 254 species of reptiles, and 368 species of freshwater fish.
At Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) we are doing our utmost to prevent the extinction of the orangutan. A century ago there were 300,000 wild Bornean orangutans. Today there are approximately 30,000 to 40,000 and extinction in the wild is predicted within 5 to 10 years if nothing is done.
Here at Nyaru Menteng, we're dealing with the fall-out from the destruction of the rainforests. We have over 600 orangutans in our care, most of them orphans whose mothers were slaughtered while searching for food by workers in the oil palm plantations.
Babies and young orangutans who are brought to the centre are cared for 24 hours a day by our team of "babysitters". At the age of about eight years, they are relocated in groups of around 25 to a neighbouring island for the first stage in their release. Here, they live a semi-wild existence but they're fed daily and monitored, to check for illness, injury or an inability to adapt to their new lifestyle. A couple of years later, those who are ready for total freedom will be taken to an area of protected rainforest – deep in the heart of Borneo – and released back into the wild to contribute to the propagation of their species. No rehabbed orangutans have yet been released, but we're hoping the first of these releases will take place this year.
We also take in a number of wild-caught adult orangutans, most of whom are found starving, injured or ill, and who are released back into the wild once we're sure that they're fit enough to survive on their own. To date, around 150 such orangutans have been released, and a further 219 have passed through the centre.
The palm oil issue is complex. Many communities in Borneo depend on these plantations for their existence, so we can't just condemn the industry outright. This is why we at BOS are working with the Indonesian government and local communities to find a solution to a problem that will ultimately affect every human being on earth. Progress is being made, but consumers can also play their part by putting pressure on those companies that use palm oil in their products, and to persuade them to source oil which has been produced by environmentally friendly methods.
The most important thing though, is that we don't give up the fight to protect the rainforests, the orangutans, and, ultimately, ourselves.
Lone Droscher-Nielsen is the founder and manager of the Nyaru Menteng rescue and rehabilitation centre of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation which operates the largest primate rescue project in the world, with nearly 1000 orangutans in their care. They rescue both wild and captive orangutans which have been displaced by poaching and the devastation of their rainforest habitat for logging and the production of palm oil. The ultimate goal is the release of healthy and rehabilitated orangutans back into protected forest. Borneo Orangutan Survival is a registered charity committed to the protection of the orangutan and its rainforest habitat, and we rely entirely on donations to fund our work. Visit: www.savetheorangutan.org.uk