Scientists criticise claims by logging and palm oil industry mouthpieces

Posted by jamie — 27 October 2010 at 10:25am - Comments

Scientists are objecting to claims made by industry lobby groups, including the amount of carbon stored in plantations compared to rainforests © Greenpeace/Behring-Chisholm

Big oil companies are not the only ones to engage in a spot of sneaky zeitgeist manipulation. The palm oil, paper and timber companies of South East Asia are also dabbling in these dark arts with various front organisations softly massaging public and political opinion.

Both Sinar Mas and Rimbunan Hijau - a Malaysian agribusiness giant - have strong links to Alan Oxley, who runs two groups, the World Growth Institute (WGI) thinktank and consultants ITS Global, both of which have been lobbying hard on behalf of their corporate benefactors.

Ian wrote earlier this month about one example, the flimsy, supposedly independent audit which ITS produced on behalf of Asia Pulp & Pulp (APP) - the paper arm of Sinar Mas - trying to discredit our own reports into APP's track record on deforestation in Indonesia.

Alan Oxley is described by as "a lobbyist for free trade agreements [and] a climate change skeptic". This has involved defending the practices of Sinar Mas and Rimbunan Hijau, advocating that obstacles like environmental protection and greenhouse gas reductions should not be put in the way of their path to bigger profits.

Now Oxley is the subject of a letter signed by a dozen scientists from around the world, objecting to the "claims and practices being used" by Oxley, WGI and ITS. It makes very interesting reading, listing in detail their concerns, including:

  • the funding behind the two organisations - ITS is known to receive funding from logging and palm oil companies, and the scientists believe WGI does as well;
  • unsupported claims about the role of the timber and plantation industries in economic and social development;
  • and misleading statements about the carbon storage potential of oil palm plantations compared to old growth forest.

The letter concludes in noting that with their strong ties to industry, "WGI and ITS should be treated as lobbying or advocacy groups, not as independent think-tanks, and their arguments weighted accordingly." Which is a way of saying, take everything they say with a substantial pinch of salt. Not least because Oxley himself has been evasive about where WGI funds come from, as this quote from the Malaysian Star shows:

To a question whether World Growth is on the payroll of any of the Malaysian palm oil-related associations or agencies, he says: "I have been asked this by many journos worldwide. My answer remains the same - I'm not allowed to say it. It is immaterial which organisations supports World Growth.

"One should focus on our mission and objectives, that is, to ensure the development of any nation should not be pushed aside through anti-free trade and anti-globalisation acts."

All this bubbles to the surface as the Rainbow Warrior is berthed in Singapore, having been refused entry into Indonesia to support the president's two-year moratorium on deforestation, possibly thanks to the government capitulating to those with a vested interest in keeping the extent of deforestation under wraps.

Ironically, Singapore is currently blanketed in smog streaming across the Malacca Straits from forest fires in Sumatra. The reason for the fires? To clear forested land and open it up to palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Truly, there is no smoke without fire...

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

Follow Greenpeace UK