The Indonesian Rainforest Needs Earth Law Rights in Response to Palm Oil

Reader Contribution by Darlene May Lee and Earth Law Center
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Photo by Fabrizio Frigeni on Unsplash

What if Earth Law could help strengthen the protection of natural habitats critical to the orangutan, and other animals, survival?

Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutan face extinction due to habitat destruction, illegal hunting, and animal trading. Upwards of 80% of Orangutan’s habitat has been lost in the last 20 years

Palm Oil Factory from Wikimedia Commons

For consumers, palm oil is nearly impossible to avoid completely. Over half of products in the US contain palm oil including shampoos, instant noodles, packaged bread, lipsticks, soap, and detergent. Most of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia (43%) and Indonesia (44%). Indonesia also happens to contain a richly biodiverse rainforest – matched only by the Amazonian ecosystem.

Palm oil plantations require bulldozing or burning large tracts of rainforest. More than a quarter of Indonesia’s forests has disappeared since 1990. Extensive clearing also releases carbon dioxide stored in trees. Indonesia has become the fifth highest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses due to these practices.

Humans suffer, too. Palm oil has been identified as one of the most common sources of forced work and child labor in the world, by the United States Department of Labor. ELC’s Co-Violations Report also found patterns of labor abuse in the palm oil industry

A solution: Rights for the Indonesian Rainforest could mean

It turns out that the $40 billion-dollar palm oil industry which is often singled out as the culprit for rainforest and orangutan habitat destruction, may, in fact, be the most environmentally friendly oil option. No other oil can yield even a third as much as palm oil per acre planted. Palm oil also uses significantly fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers than coconut, corn or any other vegetable oil source.

So, it’s not the palm oil plant per se, but rather where it is being planted. Helping save the orangutans may mean planting on already-deforested land. Earth Law is the other part of the solution – recognizing rights of the rainforest to strengthen the protection of ecosystems and species

Governance and management plans which recognized the rainforest’s right to exist, thrive and evolve would also support a healthy ecosystem while preserving and restoring biodiversity. Colombia leads the way, recognizing rights for the Amazon Rainforest in 2018. A group of young human rights advocates sued the Colombian government in an effort for their right to exist within a healthy ecosystem and environment. 

Te Urewera National Park in New Zealand also gained legal rights recognition. The Maori presented the case to preserve the region’s ecosystem and their land. This decision allows violations against the land to be brought to the courts and protected through legal channels. This case can set an example for the Indonesian case, involving the protection of both nature’s rights and human rights

Both these cases show that rights provided to the ecosystem can protect all life within that habitat. Legal rights for the Indonesian Rainforest would protect from deforestation, protect the population from land grabs and intentional wildfires, protect the workers from illegal and unsafe working conditions, and protect the animals and plants from endangerment and unhealthy habitat conditions.

ELC works to provide the earth with legal support and legally recognized rights. We work to create laws and protections that recognize the rights of nature.

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Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature’s rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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