San Francisco/Jakarta — As the 14th annual Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil meetings get underway in Bangkok, a new report released today by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) exposes ongoing destruction to one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. The RAN report — titled Protecting the Leuser Ecosystem: A Shared Responsibility — cites evidence of continued forest clearance in palm oil plantations that supply mills in the region. This activity continues despite a current national moratorium on forest clearance for palm oil expansion.

The report highlights the ongoing connections that major palm oil companies Wilmar International, Musim Mas Group and Golden Agri-Resources — dubbed the ‘Big Three Buyers’ — have with irresponsible palm oil sources from the region. It outlines the steps that the Big Three Buyers, brands that source from them, and their financial backers, along with local and national government officials, need to take to protect endangered species and community livelihoods from encroaching industrial development.

“It’s hard to adequately express the importance of the Leuser Ecosystem, both to the millions of Acehnese people who depend on it for their livelihoods and clean water, but also for the entire world, as it regulates our climate and provides a home to the last wild populations of Sumatran elephants, orangutans, tigers and rhinos still coexisting in the wild,” said Chelsea Matthews, Forest Campaigner for Rainforest Action Network (RAN). “The scale of ongoing destruction in these critical areas makes it clear that more collective action is urgently needed now, or we risk losing the Leuser Ecosystem forever. The moratorium is having a positive effect, but with forests continuing to fall, we must act more aggressively to stop the destruction.”

Published two years after RAN first exposed the threats to the Leuser Ecosystem in November 2014, this latest report finds that rainforests continue to fall, peatlands continue to be drained, conflicts remain between companies and communities, and the ongoing legal protections for the Leuser Ecosystem remain under threat despite a national moratorium on palm oil expansion. The moratorium was enacted in April 2016, and while many companies are respecting the government instruction to halt forest clearance, bad actors — called “Conflict Palm Oil Culprits” — are named in the report for ongoing destruction of the most valuable lowland rainforests and peatlands.

The report shows ongoing forest clearance found by satellite analysis as recent as September 2016, eating away at some of the last habitat for Sumatran elephants and orangutans — and the rate of forest clearance is increasing at a rapid pace. September saw a threefold increase in forest destruction over August, and August’s destruction was greater than July’s.

“The government of Indonesia’s moratorium on palm oil expansion and recent efforts to halt rogue actors destroying peatlands in the Leuser Ecosystem is a cause for hope, and the international community must step up and continue to support and further these efforts to protect Indonesia’s rainforests and peatlands, including the Leuser.

“Halting the destruction of forests and peatlands — and stopping the forest fires often intentionally set to aid the expansion of industrial palm oil development — will reduce Indonesia’s carbon footprint, the severity of the annual haze crisis and secure the lives and livelihoods of countless communities. There is too much at stake. We must all do our part to stop the expansion of Conflict Palm Oil and save the Leuser Ecosystem,” concluded Ms Matthews.

The latest report outlines the opportunity to find a new development plan for Indonesia’s Aceh province — one that protects the Leuser Ecosystem, secures peace and livelihoods, and creates new economic opportunities for local communities. The report comes days before the expected ruling on an Indonesian civil suit for the rejection of a disastrous spatial plan for Aceh, which must be struck down to uphold current legal protections for the Leuser.

Key recommendations outlined in the RAN report include:

  • The ‘Big Three Buyers’ at risk of purchasing Conflict Palm Oil from the Leuser Ecosystem must provide real incentives to their suppliers to uphold the moratorium on the destruction of rainforests and peatlands.

  • The Indonesian Government must reject Aceh’s flawed spatial plan and secure ongoing legal protection for the Leuser Ecosystem; scale up enforcement of the moratorium on the clearance of forests and peatlands; mitigate fires and prosecute companies in breach of the law.

  • The laggard brands in the Snack Food 20 — PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, Nissin Foods, Toyo Suisan and Tyson Foods — that are at continued risk of sourcing from problematic areas like the Leuser must also do more to take responsibility for their supply chains.

  • Consumers worldwide have a globally shared responsibility to ensure that the Leuser Ecosystem is not destroyed for cheap Conflict Palm Oil and must hold the Snack Food 20 to account for the impacts of their palm oil use.

Download a short, English-language media briefer on the report, here.

Download a short, Bahasa-language media briefer on the report, here.

Download the full report, here.

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