Climate Advisers

Manifesto 5 stepping up efforts (update 5): The tussle over HCS and 35tC/ha

7 October 2014: The tussle over HCS and the 35tC/ha policy step down

Khor Reports: The HCS issue is now at the forefront via two major studies, one rooted in academia (the Manifesto or SPOM group) and one lead by TFT-Greenpeace which first used a provisional 35 tC/ha or tonnes carbon per hectare ceiling based on a pilot study at GAR / PT SMART's Kalimantan degraded estates. However, TFT since says that's  no longer the ceiling; stating that 35 is a "non-existent mirage" used by those not committing to stepped up pledges to fear monger (i.e. 35 is too restrictive of development?).

So what was the 35tC/ha ceiling? In our talks to specialists, that is the life-time average carbon of the oil palm tree (it is referred to in a key RSPO working group document too); thus NGOs said that to be carbon neutral in some sense, oil palms should not be developed in forested areas with more than its own above ground carbon value. Of course, even the oil palm carbon measure is contested - do you include the fronds, fresh fruit bunches and ground cover etc? You may also ask why a crop is compared to trees - some say that may have been inadvertently abetted by some in the industry claiming that the oil palm is as good as a (forest) trees in the first place. Thus, solidifying the tree basis of comparison (which does not apply to other oilseed crops?).

So what will be the basis of "no deforestation"? A higher ceiling? Earlier, some spoke of 100tC/ha as a possibility. Some stepped up pledges have added parameters, such as Wilmar's (via a TFT traceability program) which has a multi-year no human use caveat. Individual B2B traceability programs may have varying parameters compared to the multi-stakeholder efforts such as the RSPO-based.

The details of HCS will emerge soon, as the pressure is on for the two HCS studies to find their conclusions and gain global buyer acceptance.

More reading:
Thanks to a reader for highlighting this, the TFT perspective on high carbon stocks which climbs down from the 35 tC/ha ceiling,; 35 tons of aboveground biomass is increasingly the number used to define high conservation value forest for greener palm oil initiatives. Image from Greenpeace:
TFT's Scott Poynton writes: "A key question emerged from Greenpeace: “If the accepted threshold is 35tC/ha above- ground biomass and field work reveals that 70% of a given concession is off-limits, what will GAR do? Throw the 35tC/ha threshold out the window and develop anyhow OR respect the threshold and protect the forested areas?”...The noise around 35 really is just that, a noisy mirage created by the communications teams of those companies and industry bodies that want no constraints placed on the amount or ecological condition of land that they can develop.... Brand Palm Oil does have a serious deforestation problem and the sooner it can stop fretting about a non-existent mirage called “35”, the sooner it might solve it."
Khor Reports blog posting on HCS and related topics (more recent at top, going back to landmark GAR-TFT deal in 2011):

6 October 2014: Green Tigers pans SPOM (Manifesto) group

Report rates palm oil companies on sustainability commitments by; October 05, 2014; "A new report published Forest Heroes, an advocacy campaign pushing for an end to deforestation, ranks global palm oil companies on their sustainability commitments.
The Green Tigers, authored by Glen Hurowitz, reviews the recent history of environmental policies in the palm oil sector.... The report notes that most of the companies that are signees to the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto (SPOM), a commitment established this year, are on the yellow or red lists, while Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) companies are on the green list. Environmentalists have criticized SPOM as having weaker criteria than POIG, although several SPOM members just committed to a one-year moratorium on clearing of potential high carbon stock areas while they work out a definition of what constitutes forest...."; Glenn Hurowitz, Forest Heroes Campaign Chair / Managing Director of Climate Advisers (advisor to Wilmar alongside TFT in its 5 December 2013 commitment).

21 September 2014: More slowdown in new plantings? Moratorium on deforestation by Manifesto 5.

Palm oil giants announce deforestation moratorium -- effective immediately by, September 20, 2014; "On Friday, Asian Agri, IOI Corporation Berhad, Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) Berhad, Musim Mas Group and Sime Darby Plantation said they will suspend forest clearing until they have completed a year-along study that aims to establish a threshold for defining what constitutes high carbon stock (HCS) forest.... The move comes after intense campaigning by environmentalists pushed dozens of major palm oil buyers to establish zero deforestation sourcing policies for palm oil, which is one of the top drivers of forest conversion in Malaysia and Indonesia. At the time of the announcement, several major palm oil producers and traders — including Golden Agri-Resources, Wilmar, and Cargill — had already established zero deforestation commitments based on a definition of 35 tons of carbon per hectare, effectively barring conversion of old-growth forests, secondary rainforests, and peatlands.... The moratorium may provide a temporary reprieve from green groups, which have portrayed the five companies — dubbed the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto Group for the name of their sustainability initiative — as laggards in the sector for continuing to chop down forests. NGOs that ran campaigns against the firms — including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) immediately welcomed the announcement, as did Green Century Capital Management, an investment advisory firm that a week earlier called for a deforestation moratorium...."
13 September 2014:
In late August, two high carbon stock study group meetings for palm oil were underway. One was in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Singapore. Interestingly, several companies straddle both efforts and programs - including Wilma and Cargill (correction: not Unilever at this point).
In KL was the Manifesto Group that is building on RSPO certification. Its website is here:, and the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto can be read here: Its HCS study is co-chaired by Sir Jonathon Porritt and Dr John Raison of CSIRO Australia. Dr Raison shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with many other IPCC scientists and Al Gore. It appears that a scientific route is the hallmark of this effort.
We'll look out for more information on these.

"RSPO+9", new TFT / Climate Advisers-led policies for Wilmar

New  The Forest Trust or TFT / Climate Advisers-led policies for Wilmar include these nine (9) substantive policies, which adds on to existing RSPO commitments, hence we can call it "RSPO+9" for now:

(i) non-use of peat land of any depth;

(ii) likely 35 tonnes carbon per hectare ceiling for land development;
(iii) progressive GHG reductions;
(iv) restoration and enrichment of forest and peatlands (similar to RSPO HCV compensation?);
(v) no forced labour,
(vi) 60-hour work week with 1 day off inclusive of overtime,
(vii) 3.8 square meters / 32 square feet of individual living space,
(viii) trade unions and collective bargaining;
(ix) grievance procedure where advisers and stakeholders have a say in banning suppliers.

Khor Reports blog exclusive comment: The independent advisers to Wilmar are TFT of Switzerland and Climate Advisers of the USA. TFT-Greenpeace was instrumental in putting forth the high carbon stocks ceiling principle for Golden-Agri / Sinar Mas which ran into severe NGO campaigning. This resulted in various global buyers suspending palm oil purchases from the large Singapore-based Indonesian conglomerate. Wilmar did not run into such market problems, although it was obviously facing increasingly negative comments about its "problematic" third-party purchases and land deals in the international news and NGO websites. It is notable and interesting that Wilmar also chooses to be led by the strong principles of TFT-Greenpeace. Presumably, Wilmar (also Singapore-based but with operations globally; and large plantation area in Sarawak and Indonesia and a very big refinery market share in China) expects good outcomes from adopting the approach of Golden-Agri and doing much more to boot. Climate Advisers is a relative newcomer to setting market access policy for palm oil. Palm oil companies, mostly owned by Southeast Asian entrepreneurs, have been quite readily accepting NGO-led standards on a voluntary basis. Palm oil is one of the 15 global (mostly tropical) commodities targeted by the WWF, which focuses on the very largest companies to push for more rapid change. However, WWF's Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), now finds itself superseded by the new RSPO+9 effort led by TFT-Greenpeace principles.

Look out of Khor Reports' Palm Oil Newsletter #6, Jan/Feb 2014 for more! This is a sneak preview of our review of Wilmar's bold move. Many ask how they will implement this while NGOs say that this is "just the beginning..."