KUALA LUMPUR: International environmental group Greenpeace on Tuesday blamed a Malaysian-owned palm oil company as among the 10 palm oil companies whose concessions had the largest burned area, significantly contributing to the Indonesian haze.
According to the data provided by Greenpeace, Genting Plantation’s subsidiary PT Globalindo Agung Lestari at Central Kalimantan was responsible for 5,000 hectares of burned land between 2015 and 2018. All ten companies listed have never received any serious civil or administrative sanctions from the government.
Genting Plantation is the plantation arm of the billion-dollar Malaysian company Genting Group. On its website, Genting Plantation states that it owns more than a dozen estates in west, central and south Kalimantan. The company is certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and claimed that it has adopted a variety of sustainability measures including a zero burning policy.
“The Indonesian government has not revoked a single palm oil license due to these forest fires, nor has it given any other serious sanctions to these 10 companies,” said Greenpeace.
Greenpeace also revealed the list of other palm oil and pulp companies, the majority of which have gone unpunished despite being responsible for the burned lands in Sumatra and Kalimantan between 2015 and 2018. Through the official government’s “burn scar” data, Greenpeace Indonesia analyzed that more than 3.4 million hectares of land burned between 2015 and 2018.
This year, thousands of hotspots in Kalimantan and Sumatra have affected 328,724 hectares of forest and farm land, according to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. In the last three weeks, the heavy smoke fumes from Indonesia’s forest fires have affected neighboring countries Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and the Philippines.
In Sumatra’s ground zero, the skies turned blood red as the air pollutants absorbed the sunlight. The Indonesian government declared on Monday a state of emergency for Sumatra as the air pollution index exceeded 500.
Since 1997, forest fires have become an annual occurrence due to the use of “slash and burn” techniques by residents and plantation companies when clearing lands. The method is cheap but causes severe damage to the environment. The prolonged dry season this year only intensified the burning.
The findings from the analysis contrast sharply with Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo’s claims that the government has led a crackdown against illegal burnings. “Stopping this recurring fire crisis should have been at the top of the government’s agenda since 2015,” said Kiki Taufik, global head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia forests campaign.
“But our findings show the reality: Empty words and weak and inconsistent law enforcement against companies. Jokowi and his ministers must immediately remove licenses from companies with fires on their land,” he added.
In Malaysia, expensive and large-scale cloud seedings only managed to relieve the situation short-term. The transboundary haze continues to be a major headache for Indonesia, Malaysia and its neighboring countries.
“Tackling forest fires is not only Indonesia’s responsibility alone,” said Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng Kiah Chun.
Despite previous effort to enact the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, ASEAN leaders have failed to address the annual crisis.
Chun urged the Malaysian and Indonesian governments to cooperate and tackle the long-standing problem of transboundary haze.
“Both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments need to look at where the fires are burning, why, and who is behind them to hold the main culprits behind the fires accountable, especially now that haze from Indonesian forest fires are spreading beyond the country’s boundaries,” he added.