Indonesia’s President Jokowi this week attended President Biden’s Earth Day Summit. The Summit hosts 40 world leaders, including eight – a full 20 per cent of attendees – from the European Union.
It’s worth observing that just three attendees are from Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam.
Unlike past conferences, however, the emphasis does not appear to be on forests. This is in some ways disappointing for Indonesia and the palm oil community. Indonesia’s recent record in reducing deforestation is impressive and worth sharing.
There are, however, two items on the agenda with direct relevance to the palm oil community. And there are two clear policy responses that those in the palm oil community in Indonesia and elsewhere should consider as legitimate policy pushes in forums such as Earth Day, as well as other forums.
The first item is “Mobilizing public and private sector finance to drive the net-zero transition and to help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts.”
Sustainable and lower-emission agriculture has generally not been enough of a high priority item in climate finance. The World Bank pointed out that of the USD400 billion in climate finance mobilised in 2014, just USD8 billion was for agriculture. It also observed that smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable groups in terms of climate impacts and adaptation.
Support to improve sustainability practices via ISPO is therefore a ‘win-win’. It can reduce emissions and help vulnerable communities.
Some governments – such as the Swiss government – have started to embark on a path of certification support. Aid agencies such as the UNDP have expressed support for ISPO. USAID has given some support to the ISPO revision; it should consider assisting implementation.
The second item is “the importance of ensuring all communities and workers benefit from the transition to a new clean energy economy.”
In the view of the palm oil community, one of the key barriers to this transition is the preferencing of crops that are simply unsustainable under the guise of ‘clean energy’. The best example of this is the European Union’s continued support for rapeseed and its rejection of palm oil as a feedstock. As has been pointed out across numerous scientific publications, the inputs required for rapeseed production in terms of energy, fertiliser, pesticides vastly outstrip highly efficient palm oil.
A study released last year on the impacts of rapeseed in Czechia stated that “rapeseed adoption does not support the goal of developing a sustainable agricultural landscape.”
Finally, there is one additional policy relevant to the Earth Day agenda and palm oil: “Spurring transformational technologies that can help reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, while also creating enormous new economic opportunities and building the industries of the future.”
On reducing emissions, the Indonesian government has been very active in fire prevention and fighting wildfires. This includes President Jokowi’s moratorium as well as further legislation ensuring enforcement of the management of peatlands. Moreover, international organisations such as WRI Forest Watch Fires confirmed that oil palm plantations are not the main cause of wildfires.
Transformational technologies simply do not happen without investment. Indonesia has gone to great lengths to ensure new policies to liberalise investment have been implemented.
The Indonesian government – and particularly the Ministry of Agriculture – has been an advocate for Smart Farming 4.0, which includes technology uptake for palm oil. This goes beyond productivity improvements and also includes sustainability improvements such as chain of custody.
It needs to be remembered that sustainable agriculture requires investment. Blocking investment works against sustainability; supporting investment supports sustainability.
The Indonesian palm oil community believes that Earth Day provides an opportunity for lower emissions, stronger investment, and smarter agriculture. These will provide a truly sustainable palm oil industry going into the future.