Palm oil producers and environmental activists alike have expressed dismay at a move by European officials to phase out palm-oil based biofuel by 2030. Officials in Indonesia and Malaysia - who together produce 85% of palm oil globally - say the move is discriminatory and have vowed a vigorous response, including lobbying EU member states, bringing the matter before the World Trade Organisation, and imposing retaliatory measures on EU goods.
Environmental activists, on the other hand, say the policy does not go far enough leaving loopholes allowing palm oil to be treated as a renewable fuel, allowing continued expansion of palm plantations into peat forests. They also criticize the policy’s failure to label soybean oil as high risk, with growing evidence that soy cultivation may have greater deforestation risks than palm oil.
Glycidol and acrylamide - carcinogenic above certain levels but only currently controlled in the EU - have been detected in biscuit products in Hong Kong and Malaysia. Hong Kong authorities and local regulators are testing and defining safe limits to evaluate the risks before controls are put in place.
Malaysia has shown positive intent to resolve the Nepali migrant worker crisis. The crisis started after Nepal government shut dubious visa processing agencies that illegally charged fees from Nepali workers. Both parties discussed about the probability of some temporary arrangement for the departure workers already cleared by the Malaysian Immigration and who have paid for Immigration Security Clearance and biometric identification test. The Malaysian government plans to introduce reforms in migrant labour sector. Malaysia will move ahead at the ministerial level after discussions end with clarity. It will hold another round of consultations with labour source countries to resolve all issues.
Two of the world’s leading electronics brands, are facing allegations that workers in their supply chains are being duped, exploited and underpaid in Malaysia, after a Guardian investigation found that Nepalese migrant workers making goods for the global electronics brands claimed to be trapped and exploited. Both Samsung and Panasonic have said they are opening investigations into the conduct of their suppliers following the claims.
According to research by Greenpeace's Energy desk, Malaysian IOI Group, which is one of the biggest world's producers of palm oil and which exports its production to the European Union, is related to deforestation processes and violations of labour law in Indonesia. Following the publication of a report, Greenpeace activists have blockaded a palm oil refinery owned by IOI in the port of Rotterdam.
Researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities in the US estimated there were more than 90,000 early deaths in Indonesia in areas closest to haze-belching fires, and several thousand more in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. The new estimate, reached using a complex analytical model by combining satellite data with models of health impacts from smoke exposure and readings from pollution monitoring stations, is far higher than the previous official death toll given by authorities of just 19 deaths in Indonesia. It triggered calls for action to tackle the “killer haze”.
Hershey’s, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Yum! Brands and Reckitt Benckiser have cancelled or suspended contracts with IOI following their suspension from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). IOI’s certificate was suspended based on three of its operations where RSPO standards of preventing rainforest destruction and social conflict were violated.
According to the World Bank, forest fires in Indonesia last year caused the country at least $16 billion economic losses, which is equivalent to 1.9 percent of its GDP. The haze caused by the fire blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in September and October, which was cleared by the rainy season in early November. Many of the fires were set by smallholders and companies to clear land for agriculture, especially palm oil, which makes it difficult for Indonesian authorities to respond to the fires.
Prince Charles has called upon the world leaders to work together on the better protection of the forests of the world at the UN Climate conference in Paris. In a speech given at a meeting at COP21 2015, Prince Charles said too many companies still turned a blind eye to their commercial activities destroying forests, and that protecting forests was not enough - the world needed to re-forest deforested lands.
Singapore’s National Environment Agency served Asia Pulp & Paper and four other companies with legal notice under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, because fires burning in the companies’ concessions in Indonesia. The air pollutant index in Singapore hit “hazardous” levels last week, and schools shut down. The haze even is harming relations between the two countries, with Singapore and also Malaysia.
Drones are increasingly being used in the fight against deforestation and illegal land clearing in some counties, including Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil trader Cargill has begun using drones to monitor fires near to its plantations and plan to use drones to identify protected forests. It is thought that local law enforcement agencies in Indonesia might also turn to drones as they currently rely on satellite imagery to identify hotspots but can often encounter delays in receiving information and poor resolution of images.
Five of the world’s largest palm oil producers have announced an immediate moratorium on palm oil sourced via clearance of potential high carbon stock forests. A year-long study aims to establish a threshold for defining what constitutes high carbon stock (HCS) forest. The move comes after intense campaigning by environmentalists pushed dozens of major palm oil buyers to establish zero deforestation sourcing policies for palm oil, which is one of the top drivers of forest conversion in Malaysia and Indonesia. The moratorium may provide a temporary reprieve from green groups, which have portrayed the five companies – dubbed the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto Group for the name of their sustainability initiative – as laggards in the sector for continuing to chop down forests.
According to a new Global Witness report, two Japanese companies were buying illegally-logged timber from Malaysia's rainforests and labelling much of it as 'legal' under a government-sanctioned certification scheme. The report highlights the role of Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud in the transactions. The two companies have denied the allegations, while the state of Sarawak said there was no proof to the allegation.
The Malaysian Government has launched MYTLAS to verify the legality of Malaysian wood products. The country is currently negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU under the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Programme (FLEGT). It appears likely that Peninsular Malaysia and the state of Sabah will conclude a VPA with the EU separately from the state of Sarawak which will make arrangements to participate in the VPA later. Sarawak has been at the centre of allegations of primary rainforest clearance and the Chief Minister has been accused by the NGO Bruno Manser Fund of money-laundering profits from forest clearance in Switzerland. There are concerns that a partial VPA would undermine FLEGT by setting a precedent whereby countries can sell legal timber into the EU while continuing deforestation in certain regions.
A coalition of 21 NGOs from nine countries are calling on the UN to impose sanctions on Malaysia for breaching its obligations under international anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering treaties. They allege that Malaysian authorities are protecting Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud from prosecution. The Chief Minister is linked by the NGOs to large scale destruction of Malaysia’s tropical rainforests by logging.
Two ecologists in Switzerland have designed and built a flying drone which they believe could be used to monitor illegal logging in remote and hard-to-reach regions. It was initially intended to video and photograph orangutans from the air in order to monitor their populations. However, on its debut flight over Sumatra it recorded evidence of rainforest logging. Flight launches are planned in Malaysia and Borneo in the coming months and the researchers will make public the instructions for assembling similar crafts.
Feature covering an experiment in Malaysia involving 500 hectares of artificially seeded tropical rainforest. The area had been denuded for tin mining and vegetable cultivation as recently as the 1920s. The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) is now undertaking a regeneration experiment and using this to understand how best to manage the regrowth of tropical rainforest and restoration of various elements of the corresponding ecosystem.
Transparency International-Malaysia (TI-M) has come up with a user-friendly website for Malaysians to monitor rainforests and alert the authorities over suspicious activities.