Archive for 2009

Credibility of green groups questioned

KUALA LUMPUR: Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FOE), Wetlands International and World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) could play invaluable roles in highlighting environmental problems and promote public and corporate oversight.

But when these non-governmental organisations become biased and apply double standards in their whistleblowing, many begin to doubt their credibility.

"Public trust and integrity are the essence of any NGO should we want to stay true to our purpose and remain relevant in today's context," said Malaysian Nature Society president Tan Sri Dr Salleh Mohd Nor.

"In the last decade, we've seen an increasing presence of foreign green NGOs in Southeast Asia. The objective of these foreign green and animal rights NGOs in setting up affiliates here is questionable," he told the New Straits Times in an interview here.

Examples include Amsterdam-based Friends of the Earth (FOE) giving financial support to Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Swiss-headquartered WWF funding anti-palm oil lobbyist Wetlands, which in turn contributes to Global Environment Centre, a non-profit organisation set up in Malaysia to support the protection of the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources.

There is also the UK-based Oxfam International giving money to Indonesian NGO Sawit Watch that purports to "highlight the negative social and environmental impacts of oil palm".

Earlier this week, Malaysia's Registrar of Societies Datuk Mohd Alias Kalil warned that Sahabat Alam Malaysia would be deregistered if in the fight for its cause, it is proven to indulge in extremist acts that threatens the country's interests.

When asked to comment, Salleh said: "At Malaysian Nature Society, we cherish the right to speak up for the conservation of nature but we're certainly not an extremist group. In fact, we don't agree with Greenpeace, FOE, Wetlands, Sawit Watch and WWF's biased approach, specifically their anti-palm oil lobby."

"We're a green NGO but we do not lobby against select industries or seek representation at negotiating tables to set up trade barriers disguised as environmentally-friendly measures."

Salleh said the Malaysian Nature Society had, throughout its 70 years of existence, stuck to its core activities of expeditions and explorations into the deep jungles and caves to inculcate love for nature among its members. "As the oldest green NGO in Malaysia, we take pride in being transparent. We have never haboured any hidden agenda or ulterior motives. We publish all contributions and expenses in our annual reports. I can assure you every sen is accounted for," he said.

Today, it is an undisputable fact that financially strong NGOs like Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Greenpeace, FOE, Wetlands, Oxfam International and WWF wield great clout at international decision-making forums on global warming. One would expect that with great power, comes great responsibility.

But to date, it is unclear whether these NGOs have institutionalised external oversight of their decision-makings.

Are there independent audits to determine the effects of their policies and practices on the orang-utans and indigenous people they claim to be helping? These NGOs are whistleblowers, judge and jury, all roled into one -- a stark contrast to independent boards in corporations.

On the other hand, oil palm plantation companies, whether listed on the stock exchange or privately held are a responsible lot by virtue of the industry being tightly regulated. About 50 corporates involved in palm oil-related businesses are listed on Bursa Malaysia.

Related party transactions and profit/loss accounts are open to public and regulatory scrutiny. Every oil palm planter, miller, refiner, trader and cargo forwarder is subjected to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board's (MPOB) stringent regulation.

This means the government keeps tab of agricultural land planted with oil palm trees, quality of seedlings that are planted in the estates, how much palm oil is produced and how soon and the quality of oil shipped out. Every shipment is reported to MPOB within 24 hours. Those in the industry who do not comply face heavy penalties.

Sahabat Alam at a loss over Registrar's warning
KUALA LUMPUR: Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an affiliate of Amsterdam-based Friends of the Earth, does not want to speculate on the motive behind the Registrar of Societies' warning about its possible deregistration.

Earlier this week, the Registrar of Societies (ROS), Datuk Mohd Alias Kalil warned that SAM can be deregistered as a non-governmental organisation if there is proof that it is involved in activities which threaten the nation's interests. Speaking from Miri, Alias said ROS is monitoring SAM closely and any other NGOs which acted extremely in their cause.

In a telephone interview from Penang yesterday, SAM secretary Meenakshi Raman said: "We don't know what motivated the ROS to give such warning. "We were caught by surprise when we saw it in the news. There was no official letter from ROS, so we shall wait and see."

Friends of the Earth and affiliates have in the last five years blamed the oil palm industry's rapid growth to deforestation and peatland degradation, which in turn is blamed for species extinction, worsening climate change and the displacement of indigenous people.

It lobbies for a moratorium on the conversion of forests and peat land into plantations be it oil palm, rubber or timber species.

Asked if SAM received funding from Friends of the Earth headquarters in Amsterdam, Meenakshi replied: "Yes, we do ... just like other affiliates in other countries. We don't see any problem with this."

"We're a credible organisation and we take our cause seriously."

To a question whether SAM considered whether lobbying for a moratorium on forest and peatland could serve as trade barriers seeking to limit the growth of the oil palm and rubber industry, she replied: "We stand by the view that agriculture has to be sustainably-produced and we're concerned about deforestation."

"We hold the view that our activities are consistent with the government's policy on environmental protection. We don't see how we're acting against the interests of our country."

Reference materials:-
Friends of the Earth (FOE) & Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) report - Malaysian Palm Oil, Green Gold or Greenwash
Malaysian Palm Oil Council respond to FOE & SAM report
Wetlands International calls for a moratorium on palm oil from tropical peatlands
Greenpeace - How the Palm Oil Industry is Cooking the Climate
Sahabat Alam Malaysia protest against Malaysia's National Biofuel Policy
WWF Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands report on Rainforest for biodiesel?

Malaysian Palm Oil blog
Malaysia's Forest - looking ahead to 2020
From food to fuel, synergies in palm oil
Malaysia's palm biodiesel

More efficient waste-to-energy technologies

GREEN Ocean Corp Bhd, a palm kernel crusher, and process engineering firm Lipochem (M) Sdn Bhd are seeking government funds to help develop more cost-efficient "waste-to-energy" technology beneficial to the oil palm industry.

There are about 400 palm oil mills in the country. These mills emit methane from retention ponds after oil extraction. Estate owners are looking for cost effective ways to trap methane from the mill sludge to fuel up steam turbines and generate electricity, a renewable source of clean energy.

"We've approached the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water to be part of a pilot plant project to develop more cost-efficient methods to turn greenhouse gas into clean energy," Green Ocean managing director Lee Byoung Jin said.

"Our process engineering partner, Lipochem, has the expertise to build the 21st century pilot plant. But we'll need some financial assistance from the government because this waste-to-energy project will benefit the overall oil palm industry," he told Business Times when met at the inaugural Korea-Malaysia Bio-energy Forum in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Also present was Lipochem managing director Koh Pak Meng. "With active involvement from the government, we hope to start work on the pilot plant within the Klang Valley. The enhance digester reactor, capable of generating 500 kilowatts (KW) per hour, can cost up to RM10 million," Koh said.

South Korean Ambassador to Malaysia, Yang Bong Ryull, who officiated at the seminar, said that many investors were keen to invest in green technology.

Last week, POIC Sabah Sdn Bhd chief executive Dr Pang Teck Wai disclosed that South Korean investors Global Bio-Diesel Sdn Bhd and Eco Biomass Energy Sdn Bhd, which together had invested some RM500 million at the Lahad Datu Palm Oil Industrial Cluster, were facing difficulties in selling biodiesel and sourcing biomass to generate electricity.

In response, Yang said: "Due to the global economic downturn, the operations have not picked up." Asked if the investors might give up and pull out of Malaysia, he replied: "Although I'm a bit worried, I'm also quite positive that they will stay. The investment climate (including incentives) here is good. It is actually the global economic slowdown that has affected their operations."

In South Korea, the Ministry of Environment has announced that it may launch a pilot greenhouse gas emission trading scheme as early as December next year to encourage pollution control.

The Korea Exchange (KRX) will serve as a platform for carbon emission trading, also known as cap and trade.Under the scheme, participating organisations will be issued the right to emit a specific amount of pollutant set by the government. They can trade remaining allowances or buy carbon credits from those who pollute less.

The three-year pilot scheme will see the participation of 14 local governments, 446 public organisations, 29 workplaces and 166 retailers in South Korea.

Palm biomass to ease Sabah power shortage

My colleague, Jaswinder Kaur, reports on the need for the government to specifically incentivise biomass usage to generate renewable energy for the benefit of people living in Sabah.

SABAH produces over 30 per cent of the country's palm oil and should be able to generate renewable energy from the crop's waste, but initiatives to move into this direction must be policy driven.

Currently, there are not enough incentives for oil palm players to consider renewable energy as part of their business plans, said state government-owned POIC Sabah Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Dr Pang Teck Wai.

"The introduction of a biomass policy, driven by environmental concerns, is the way forward. There is no doubt we can generate renewable energy from palm oil mill effluent and empty fruit bunches, but it needs to be policy driven," he said in a statement yesterday.

Pang was commenting on Malaysian Palm Oil Board's suggestion of palm oil millers helping to ease Sabah's power shortage if the government provides better incentives for installation of methane gas capture facility to generate electricity at their mills.

Of the 410 palm oil mills in Malaysia, 117 are in Sabah. Mills emit methane from retention ponds after oil extraction. Methane or biogas can be trapped from the mill sludge to fuel steam turbines and generate power.

Pang said little of the oil palm biomass is being used for commercial purposes as selling empty fruit bunches is not a major part of a mill's income, and neither is there a serious enforcement of law to compel them to dispose of the bunches, a major contributor of methane gas.

He cited the example of Eco Biomass Energy Sdn Bhd, a South Korean investor at the Lahad Datu Palm Oil Industrial Cluster that is facing difficulties in getting biomass for its proposed biomass power plant. Two years have passed and the company is still unable to secure sufficient long term supply of empty fruit bunches, despite Sabah producing almost a third of the nation's palm oil.

The POIC Lahad Datu industrial park needs Eco Biomass Energy's plant to produce power, which can be supplied to a myriad of palm oil-related industries. Pang said a biomass policy will spell out government incentives and strict environmental requirements for the production of renewable energy.

"For example, the estimated RM6 million needed for mills to install biogas-capture structure - unless there are incentives or legislative requirement or both, not many mills will bother to capture methane from their palm oil mill effluent," he said.

According to Pang, there are only four power plants in Sabah that are powered entirely on empty fruit bunches, either raw or in fibre form, with two 10-MW facilities in Sandakan, one 7.5-megawatt plant at Felda Sabahat, Lahad Datu, and one 14-megawatt plant owned by public-listed TSH Resources in Tawau.

However, he said none of these were running at full capacity, either because of inconsistent biomass supply, or technological drawbacks, especially in the build-up of clinker in the boilers, which apparently was a problem unique to empty fruit bunches-burning.

Palm oil millers can help solve Sabah power shortage

SABAH'S power shortage can be mitigated if the government provides better incentives for palm oil millers to generate renewable energy. There are 410 palm oil mills in the country, of which 117 are in Sabah. Mills emit methane from retention ponds after oil extraction.

"Estate owners can trap methane from the mill sludge to fuel up steam turbines and generate electricity, a renewable source of clean energy," said Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) chairman Datuk Sabri Ahmad.

"This is one of the cleaner alternatives for Sabah, instead of installing coal-fired power plants. Biomass and biogas technology is available now," he told Business Times in an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

"What we need is some financial assistance. Millers need around RM6 million to install methane gas trapping and steam turbine generators," he said.

From January 2010, the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water pledged to facilitate RM1.5 billion worth of cheap loans via local banks for the provision and usage of green technologies. "Relatively cheap loans is a good start but matching grants can make a difference in solving Sabah's power shortage," he added.

Currently, utility giant Tenaga Nasional Bhd via its "Small Renewable Energy Programme" is offering to buy renewable energy at only 21sen/KWh. Another stumbling block is the lack of connectivity between neighbouring mills to the national grid. "If the government were to fund the hook-up and raise the price to 30sen/KWh, we can quickly realise this initiative among palm oil millers to benefit neighbouring rural communities," Sabri said.

A good role model is TSH Resources Bhd. Since 2005, it has been turning dirty methane gas emitted by its mills to clean energy. TSH's mills generate 14 megawatts (MW), of which they sell 10MW back to Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd and keep 4MW for its own use.

Methane is one of the many polluting gas in the environment that contributes to global warming and depletion of the ozone layer. Therefore, trapping methane gas to generate electricity is an environmental-friendly initiative.

Next year the European Union (EU), a major biofuels consumer, will impose a target to only accept biodiesel that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 35 per cent versus fossil fuel, which risks cutting out palm oil which the EU considers to save only 19 per cent.

Sabri, who have just returned from Brussels, said the European Commission's Joint Research Centre - the scientific body responsible for the scientific and technical aspects of EU policy development - is likely to show higher savings for palm oil. "Having received our latest data gathered from 102 estates in Malaysia, the JRC (scientists) say palm oil could show savings of more than 19 per cent," Sabri said.

Msia, Indonesia reject oil palm planting curb at UN summit

WHILE the recently-ended climate talks in Denmark may have been met with dismay by environmentalists, oil palm planters are relieved that calls to curb planting have been rejected.

This is said to come under a scheme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing countries (REDD). The World Bank had wanted this in place after the Kyoto Protocol, the current international pact to combat global warming, expires at the end of 2012.

Under the Kyoto Protocol palm oil millers can earn carbon credits if they install mini power plants at mills powered by biomass. REDD promises to continue this, but with a condition to "avoid deforestation", a clause that could be interpreted to mean "no more expansion of oil palm plantations".

Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's top producers of palm oil, have rejected this proposal at the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Summit. The World Bank scheme highlights how anti-palm oil lobby appears to have been inextricably linked to climate change issues.

But there are also bodies that are making attempts to show that green groups like Greenpeace can't see the forest for the trees.

World Growth (WG), a pro-development NGO, is lobbying against any international binding agreements that seek to curb oil palm planting under the guise of "saving rainforest". In an interview from Copenhagen, WG chairman Alan Oxley said Greenpeace, Wetlands International and Friends of the Earth's anti-palm oil lobby was "immoral" because their actions hurt the potential income of some five million oil palm planters in Malaysia and Indonesia.

At the Copenhagen conference, WG released a report titled "Collateral Damage: How the Bogus Campaign Against Palm Oil Harms the Poor". It essentially found that palm oil production, a sustainable vegetable oil and essential food staple, raises living standards and reduces poverty in developing countries.

"Planting oil palm trees help alleviate poverty because palm oil can generate returns of about US$3,000 per hectare (RM10,320) while other food crop generates less than US$100 (RM340)," he said. A former career diplomat, Oxley is also chairman of the national Australian APEC Study Centre, one of Australia's leading economic researcher based at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Malaysia's oil palm plantations, which directly employ 580,000 jobs, supports two million livelihoods. "Based on the track record in Malaysia and Indonesia, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) is funding a project in Uganda to test the effectiveness of oil palm planting as a poverty eradication tool," he said.

Greenpeace, Wetlands and Friends of the Earth are currently running elaborate campaigns against palm oil, pressuring developing nations to reduce or even eliminate the land conversion necessary to cultivate this basic food ingredient. These green activists allege that expansion of oil palm plantations into forest and peatland areas poses a serious threat to the global climate.

"No less than 10 million of Indonesia's 22.5 million ha of peatland have already been deforested and drained," Greenpeace said in a statement posted on its website. It went on to say expansion plans in Riau province have the potential of triggering a "climate time bomb". Riau's peatland forests store a massive 14.6 billion tonnes of carbon - equivalent to one year's global greenhouse gas emissions.

Without providing data that can be verified, these Europe-based activists also alleged destruction of Indonesia's peatland forests alone accounts for 4 per cent of global annual emissions. They placed Indonesia as the third biggest polluter, after the US and China.

Greenpeace's latest posting said it wants President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to submit to international civil society pressures and stop the further destruction of Indonesia's rainforests and peat lands.

Washington-based WG, a non-governmental organisation that lobbies for free trade, say that not all within international civil society agree with Greenpeace, Wetlands and Friends of the Earth. It considers these accusations and others levied by Greenpeace, Wetlands and Friends of the Earth as wrong, cannot be substantiated or severely exaggerated.

"Our finding reveal, at best, they're a misunderstandings of facts and economics and, at worst, intentional distortion of the truth in an attempt to advance radical efforts to halt any conversion of forested land," Oxley said.

In contrast to the green activists' claims, the fact is oil palm trees are highly sustainable - generating 10 times the amount of energy consumed. Compare that to rapeseed, which produces only three times the energy input; and soyabean which requires 10 times more land to yield the same amount of vegetable oil.

"And if these 'green' credentials aren't enough, the report also shows that oil palm plantations are very effective carbon sinks - a stark contrast to the propaganda by Greenpeace, Wetlands and Friends of the Earth".

In addition to these surprising revelations, WG's report demonstrates that poverty and not oil palm planting, is the major cause of deforestation and loss of orangutan habitat."This latest findings by forestry experts show two-thirds of forest clearance is driven by low income people in poor countries searching for land, habitation and food production," he said.

Oxley concluded that some green groups are willing to advance potentially devastating propositions so casually - especially when their implementation could cripple an industry that is able to reduce poverty and raise living standards - calls into question their morals. "What Greenpeace, Wetlands and Friends of Earth are doing is not green, it's simply immoral and hurting the poor."

"If developed countries want developing nations to sign on to a new global strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, they must advance strategies that raise living standards and not regard poverty increase as unavoidable collateral damage," Oxley said.

Tim Wilson, founder of, shares the same view. Making reference to an 11-paged report titled "Palming off livelihoods?: The misguided campaign against palm oil" , Wilson said proposals at the UN Copenhagen Conference that stop forest conversion will only keep the world's poor trapped in poverty.

He talked about Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth's campaign activities ranging from protesting shipment of palm-based animal feed into New Zealand, to lobbying European officials to ban usage of palm oil as biofuel to getting palm oil advertisements taken off from television networks in the UK.

Although the lobby against palm oil is multi-faceted, it has one clear objective - to reduce palm oil consumption in western markets, like Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand. "Deliberately reducing consumption of palm oil will only harm poor farmers' livelihoods and their capacity to lift themselves out of poverty," he said.

On nutrition, Wilson said palm oil is a necessary dietary staple for the poor because it is a rich source of Vitamin A. "Since palm carotenes is essential in boosting children's immune system, any deficiency can lead to a million deaths per year among the poor in developing nations," he said.

Billion-dollar pledge to help poor nations - what it really means

At the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009, there were detailed talks on pollution reduction commitments, preventing deforestation and transfer of clean-energy technology.

The EU and the US jointly pledged US$10 billion a year from 2010 to 2012 to help poor countries adapt to climate change provided their leaders sign up to a deal.

Very noble and generous of developed countries, isn't it?

Did you know that, of the US$10 billion pledge ...

1. All of it comes from pre-existing aid commitments, so the US$10 billion pledge is not new money. It is just diverting finance from other aid areas, of which US$2.5 billion had already been given by developed countries.
2. So far, 50 per cent of the pledge are in the form of loans, not grants.
3. So far, more than half of the pledge money is channelled via the World Bank, compared to just 1 per cent through the United Nations.

The EU and US said the costs of tackling climate change in developing countries, via mitigation and adaptation, will cost US$100 billion by 2020. This is not the same as saying rich countries will pay US$100 billion by 2020.

How the EU and US expect the $100 billion in costs to be paid:-

1. Between US$20-US$50 billion from public expenditure by governments from both rich countries and poor countries. The only countries not expected to contribute are the "Least Developed Countries".
2. An unspecified but large amount from carbon offsetting on condition that developing nations prevent deforestation (could mean a moratorium on expansion of oil palm plantations). Even if offsetting did help tackle climate change in developing countries, this is counted towards meeting rich country pollution reduction obligations, so it cannot count towards meeting their financial pledge.
3. The remaining costs will not get any international financial support. Poor countries are most likely expected to bear the costs themselves in buying clean-energy technology from developed nations.

See... technology transfer of clean energy from developed nations is not necessarily a good thing. Technologies (wind and solar) developed in temperate countries are expensive and may not work in tropical (heavy rainfall and humid) weather.

Maybe it is better for Malaysian scientists and process engineers to develop affordable and practical solutions to use palm-based biodiesel, biogas and biomass to generate renewable electricity.

Prime Minister Datuk Najib Rajak was spot on when he said "for Copenhagen to succeed there must be a clear statement that developed countries shall not take trade-related measures such as carbon tariffs and border adjustment measures against the product, services and investments of developing countries.

"Otherwise, we would have a totally unacceptable situation where developed countries give US$1 with one hand and take away US$10 with the other."

Msia offers conditional 40% cut in carbon emission

My colleague Mimi Syed Yusof reports from Denmark on Malaysia's standpoint on possible heavier punishment for factories, refineries and mills that pollute the air.

Earlier, developing countries managed to scuttle Denmark's initiative that sought "to kill" the Kyoto Protocol. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen took over COP15's podium as its new president, after Connie Hedegaard abruptly resigned on December 16. Rasmussen quickly announced that there will be two texts to be presented to the high level meetings in order to move the negotiations forward.

His announcement aroused suspicion among developing nations that the presidency was trying to present new drafts instead of using the draft texts which the groups had been working on almost around the clock.

The "Danish text" had sought to set unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals - a move which will effectively kill the Kyoto Protocol.

Rich nations, like Denmark had wanted a fresh treaty, arguing the world has changed and the major emerging economies such and China and India must commit to curbing their huge and fast growing national emissions. But the developing nations argue that rich nations grew wealthy by polluting the atmosphere and must take primary responsibility for it, which can only be guaranteed by Kyoto.

It is a relief that developing countries, like Malaysia, resisted efforts to replace or downgrade the 1997 protocol, which places legally binding commitments on rich – but not poor – nations. Negotiators now move forward on a 2-track basis, one part of which maintains the integrity of Kyoto.

U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern, however, reiterated an extension of Kyoto would have to be without Washington. "We're not going to become part of the Kyoto Protocol." Former President George W. Bush said the Kyoto Protocol was a straitjacket that unfairly omitted greenhouse gas curbs for developing nations led by China. President Barack Obama has no plans to rejoin even though he wants to step up U.S. actions to fight global warming.

COPENHAGEN: Malaysia will voluntarily slash by up to 40 per cent her carbon emission by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who made this commitment today, said this was part of Malaysia’s contribution to global efforts to combat climate change.

The offer to reduce pollution levels, however, was conditional upon technology transfer and adequate financing from developed countries.

Addressing the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 here, Najib said Malaysia was committed to doing its best to combat climate change.

“We realise this is nothing short of a herculean endeavour, but Malaysia is committed,” he said, adding conference presented fair principles of equity and historical responsibility due to the need of parties in the Annex 1 category (industrialised countries and economies in transition) to repay their climate debt.

Najib also said that Malaysia was committed to ensure at least half of its land area remained as forests, as pledged at the United Nations Rio de Janerio Earth Summit in 1992. “Currently our national natural forests and agriculture crop plantations cover 75 per cent of the country’s land area,” he said during the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15).

Stressing the importance of the Kyoto Protocol forged in 1997, Najib said developed countries which were not party to it should take steps in reducing carbon emissions as agreed to in the Bali Action Plan 2007. “Malaysia calls on the developed countries to collectively commit in Copenhagen to an aggregate reduction of 49 per cent by 2017 compared to the 1990 levels,” he said.

“The key to our future cooperation is to recognise, adopt and work out the realisation of the principle of fair shares to the atmospheric space and resource. “At the same time, we must have ambitious environmental aspirations,” he said, adding that these two factors would ensure COP15’s success.

Najib later described the proposed US$10 billion (RM3.4 billion) fast track funding for developing nations to control pollution as a “mere pittance and woefully inadequate”. Developing countries required long-term financing of some US$800 billion a year for adaptation and mitigation of climate change.The funding, he added, was linked to the target of limiting global warming to a 2°C temperature rise.

However, the figure could hit US$1.5 trillion annually based on scientific endeavours to cap the rise at 1.5°C. “If we think about it, this is not too high when compared with the trillions of dollars recently used in bailing out banks and companies.” Najib urged developed countries to commit US$200 billion annually by 2012 until US$800 billion annually, thereafter.

Najib also suggested that the developed nations should commit to cut their emissions by well over 100 per cent compared to the proposed 80 per cent cut. Even if developed countries cut their emissions by 80 per cent, it would imply a 20 per cent cut by developing countries in absolute terms and a cut of 60 per cent per capita because of population growth. “This was an almost impossible task given the imperative of high economic growth. Therefore, developed countries have to commit to cut their emissions by well over 100 per cent.

Developed countries must invest more heavily in carbon sinking. In other words, they need to plant more trees to absorb more carbon dioxide than the amount emitted by their factories into the air, "so that developing countries will still have some carbon space,” he said.

He also spoke on the looming threat of trade barriers under the guise of addressing climate change. For COP15 to work, there must be a clear statement that developed countries would not take trade-related measures such as carbon tariffs and border adjustment measures against the products, services and investments of developing countries.

“Otherwise, we would have an unacceptable situation where developed countries give US$1 with one hand and take away US$10 with the other.”

Plantation stocks set for uptrend

Analysts are generally bullish on plantation counters in the short term given the shortage of workers on oil palm estates in Sabah, the country's biggest palm oil producer.

Shares of plantation companies bucked the broader market's fall yesterday after industry officials said that palm oil production could be hit by a serious lack of harvesters in the state.

"The market needs to be aware that labour is a growing problem for oil palm planters today, especially with the massive greenfield development in Indonesia over the last two years," KAF Seagroatt-Campbell Securities Sdn Bhd senior analyst Vince Ng said.

Among vegetable oils, palm oil is the most labour-intensive and productivity is also low. A worker can produce up to 20 tonnes of oil a year compared to up to 600 tonnes for US soyabean and UK rapeseed. It is also difficult to mechanise the harvesting process for palm fruits.

He raised his palm oil price target.

"We've upgraded next year's average palm oil price forecast to RM2,600 a tonne from RM2,400 previously. We have also raised our long-term palm oil price to RM2,200 from RM2,000."

We stay overweight on plantation," Ng said, adding that his top picks included Sime Darby Bhd, PPB Group Bhd, Genting Plantations Bhd, United Plantations Bhd, Hap Seng Plantations Bhd and Kulim Bhd.

Kenanga Investment Bank analyst Liong Chee How acknowledged that labour shortage in the industry was a longstanding structural problem, but over the last 18 months had become more severe.

"In view of the current high palm oil prices, the short-term solution is to offer higher salaries to skilled harvesters," he said. "In the longer term, planters will need to invest in mechanisation and automation wherever possible," he added.

Yesterday, palm oil futures on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives Market rose the highest in six months to close at RM2,586 a tonne. On the stock market, IOI Corp Bhd, Negeri Sembilan Oil Palms Bhd and Chin Teck Plantations Bhd were among the top gainers.

Worker woes may hit palm oil earnings

Malaysia could lose billions of ringgit in palm oil export earnings if a serious labour shortage in Sabah continues, industry officials say. The plantation sector in Sabah, Malaysia's most productive palm oil producer, has seen its workforce fall by a fifth recently, Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) chief executive Datuk Mamat Salleh said.

Checks with plantation companies revealed that more than 10 sizeable oil palm estates in the state did not have enough workers because those who had gone home to Indonesia for the Hari Raya Puasa and Haji holidays did not come back.

The main reason was that estates in Kalimantan were paying the same wages offered in Sabah, Mamat said.

"If foreign workers, comprising half of the 600,000 workforce in the palm oil industry, are reduced by 30 per cent, our country's palm oil export earnings could shrink as much as RM10 billion a year," he told Business Times in an interview.

Sabah produces seven million tonnes of palm oil a year, or 40 per cent of the national output.The palm oil industry earned a record RM65 billion in export earnings last year, thanks to high prices.

Two months ago, East Malaysia Planters' Association (Empa) chairman Othman Walat reportedly said that oil palm planters in Sabah and Sarawak might recruit workers from China, Bangladesh and the Philippines to make up for the shortage of Indonesian workers. However, other industry officials felt that it was easier said than done as other nationals did not prefer working on the estates, while Malaysians were under the mistaken assumption that the job did not pay well.

"But plantations these days are offering productivity-based salaries. A harvester, for instance, can earn between RM1,500 and RM2,000 a month, depending on the quantity and quality of fruit bunches he harvests."A family of three working together can earn up to RM3,000," Othman said.

Furthermore, the job offers housing, uninterrupted supply of electricity and piped water, medical, schooling and recreation facilities free of charge by the estate owners. These are now enjoyed by the foreign workers.

While, the MPOA understands and fully supports the government policy to employ more locals and enhance mechanised harvesting on the estates, the reality is far from expectations. Mamat said that young locals entering the labour market were just not interested in menial jobs like the harvesting of oil palm fruits.

"We do not want to be too dependent on foreign labour, but do we have any other feasible and practical alternatives?" he questioned.

Oil palm planters question legality of windfall tax

MEMBERS of the Malaysian Estate Owners Association (MEOA), who are losing money, said they will not pay any windfall taxes until the legality of Windfall Profit Levy Act 1998 on palm oil is justified. Established in 1931, MEOA represents small- and medium-sized estates of more than 40 hectares.

"We're seeking advice on the legality of this windfall profit levy. The formulation assumes all planters make money when palm oil prices in the physical market surpass RM2,500 per tonne. The reality, however, is far from that," said MEOA president Boon Weng Siew.

Not every planter makes tonnes of money because the profitability of oil palm plantations depends on the age and productivity of the trees. "A newly-replanted estate would still be losing money even if palm oil prices surpass RM3,000 per tonne," Boon told Business Times in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.

"Why should planters, whose estates are losing money, pay windfall tax?" he asked. It is clear that the windfall tax formula is flawed and unfair to new plantations or those undertaking replanting activities.

"On the one hand, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board incentivise oil palm planters to carry out replanting and yet, at the same time, the Customs Department slaps us with windfall tax when palm oil prices surpass RM2,500 per tonne. Mixed signals from different agencies within the government are causing investors to lose confidence in the palm oil industry," he said.

"It would have been more justified if the windfall tax is on actual profits of audited financial accounts, like corporate tax," he added.

Oil palm planters in the peninsular are expected to start paying windfall tax soon as the average crude palm oil price is nearing RM2,500 per tonne in the cash market. Planters in Sabah and Sarawak only need to pay windfall tax if the price cross RM3,000 per tonne.

So far, palm oil for the third month delivery, in the physical market, has averaged at RM2,503 per tonne. MEOA said its members consider the Act a double taxation on planters and a deterrent to local and foreign investments in the stock market, Boon said.

Palm oil is already the world's most heavily-taxed vegetable oil, with oil palm planters having to pay 26 per cent corporate tax, cess amounting to RM13 per tonne of crude palm oil, 7.5 per cent and 5 per cent sales tax in Sabah and Sarawak respectively. Also, there are varying import duties in consuming countries.

Currently, it is estimated that for every RM100 a tonne increase in the price of palm oil, Malaysia's export revenue is boosted by RM1.8 billion, based on annual production of 18 million tonnes.This translates into additional corporate tax of RM315 million, based on 70 per cent of taxable production after excluding 30 per cent of non-taxable production from smallholders and newly developed areas.

Palm oil nations may file WTO case against EU

MALAYSIA and Indonesia, the world's leading palm oil producers, and other palm oil producing countries may group together and file a case to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the European Union (EU) for introducing new laws skewed against the commodity.

"The palm oil industry has received legal opinions that the EU Renewable Energy Directive could infringe the WTO's basic regulations," Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) chairman Datuk Lee Yeow Chor told Business Times in an interview in Petaling Jaya.

The EU directive seeks to restrict the import of palm oil for biofuel usage in Europe in favour of the heavily subsidised home-grown rapeseed oil. Adopted in April this year, the directive will take effect in March next year, with member states given time until October to legislate it.

Since the middle of last year, the MPOC has been voicing its concern over the directive's methodology, which understates palm biodiesel's contribution in reducing carbon dioxide emission.

Palm oil is said to have distinct advantages over biofuel derived from rapeseed. The former generates 10 times the energy it consumes in production compared with a ratio of just three for rapeseed oil. This means that palm biodiesel has a much smaller land footprint than rapeseed. As a low-carbon alternative to coal and petrol, and given its relatively smaller environmental footprint than other oil crops, palm oil is actually quite useful in the global fight against climate change.

Palm oil's efficiency advantage means stiff competition for European rapeseed farmers. In view of this, the EU came up with the Renewable Energy Directive, which seeks to restrict imports to protect the highly subsidised rapeseed biodiesel producers.

Two days ago, at the Malaysia-Indonesia Economic Seminar 2009, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad advised the two top producers to speak with one voice to counter the anti-palm oil lobby by Europe-based environmental activists.

Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Wetlands International and Sawit Watch have alleged that both producers were destroying the natural habitat of orang utans by felling trees to make way for oil palm estates.

"If both Indonesia and Malaysia speak out with one voice, it will be more effective," Dr Mahathir said. He called on the leaders of both countries to be more vocal in their stand at international forums. "This way, both countries will earn the respect of others."

Michelle’s wild about orangutans

Actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh’s love for animals helped her form a special bond with orangutans, writes HIZREEN KAMAL.

MALAYSIA’S very own international actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh has always had a fascination for animals. Her father is a great animal lover and her family would always sit in front of the TV to watch documentaries and movies featuring animals.

Having been to Africa to observe wildlife in an open jeep at close range, this 47-year-old former beauty queen is quite comfortable in the company of a pride of lions just a few metres away.

While she returns to Malaysia as much as she can to visit her parents in Ipoh, Perak, she came back for a different reason recently — to film a 50-minute documentary titled Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh, which tells of Malaysia's conservation efforts to protect orangutans which are among the planet’s most endangered primates.

The documentary was filmed at three main locations in Sabah — the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

It was during the filming of the documentary that she felt a certain closeness with the primates.

Like most people, her first encounter with apes was at the zoo when she was very young. But filming the documentary opened Yeoh’s eyes to the world of primates as she had spent time being around them. “They are cute but, at the same time, they can be strong too. While there are people who would like to have them as pets, they belong in the wild.”

Yeoh, who is best known for her role in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and the multiple Academy Award-winning Chinese action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has never been this close to the apes before, but she has learnt to always be calm in the presence of wildlife. “We have to also understand their movements. Normally, they are not violent,” she said, when asked how she felt being near an ape for the first time.

During the filming, she adopted two baby orangutans — Sen and Michelle. “I choose the ones with the most colourful characters. Sen is quite the little rascal and he loves running around, while Michelle is a little sensitive as she doesn’t like to be scolded,” said Yeoh.

Yeoh is also in the country to shoot period costume martial arts thriller Jian Yu Jiang Wu. She acts opposite Korean heartthrob Jang Woo Sung. However, she hopes to a return to Sabah and visit her “babies”. “Even though I can’t be there physically with them all the time, I try to do my bit to help in any way I can. It is a privilege to help."

“I was fascinated with the idea when it was first pitched to me. I have always wanted to do something like this but never had the opportunity. As an artiste and celebrity, I think we are able to reach out to more people on conservation awareness and efforts to protect primates.

“I want to get down and dirty, and be on the ground with the animals.” While Yeoh may be super-fit, she finds it a feat when she had to climb a tree for one of the scenes. “It was like wall climbing. When we rehearsed to get the hang of it, it was not quite what I thought it was. The person who was teaching me was brilliant as I find it a challenge as I have a fear of heights.”

The filming took two weeks and Yeoh had a wonderful time seeing the wildlife. “We were advised not to be surprised if we could not see many wild animals, as they are shy.”

Yeoh also enjoyed watching Sepilok’s veterinarian Dr Cecilia Boklin and Sabah Wildlife Department chief veterinarian Dr Sen Nathan, who are practically the mother and father to the primates at the rehabilitation centre, try their best to work with the apes before releasing them back to the wild.

“During filming, we saw two orangutans making their journey back into the wild. As the apes went up the trees I can see the emotions in their faces. It was touching, and at the same time you felt a sense of pride.”

Yeoh is hopeful that the documentary will allow viewers to see the beauty of orangutans in the wild. “We need to protect these wonders. If we don’t, orangutans will go extinct.”

Among The Great Apes With Michelle Yeoh

Among The Great Apes With Michelle Yeoh will premiere tomorrow at 9pm on the National Geographic Channel (Astro Channel 553). In the article below, The Star journalist SHARMILLA GANESAN catches up with Datuk Michelle Yeoh to find her doing her bit to help protect the endangered orangutan.

YOU may be familiar with seeing Datuk Michelle Yeoh on the silver screen in many guises, from a Bond girl to a martial arts expert to a geisha.

The Ipoh-born actress’ next starring role, however, will be something much more personal and poignant – a documentary where she returns home to Malaysia and journeys to Sabah to discover what is being done to save our orangutans from extinction.

Right off the bat, Yeoh was determined to be as involved as possible.

“During my first meeting (with the producers), I told them I didn’t just want to be dolled up on screen and function as a bookend to the show,” Yeoh said during a recent phone interview from Songjiang, China, where she is currently filming a movie.

“You learn so much when you’re involved in projects like this. You’re not just a tourist who’s there for half a day, rather, you’re really out there seeing how it really is. I wanted to be up close and personal with the orang utans. Think Dian Fossey, think Gorillas In The Mist!”

True to her words, the documentary, Among The Great Apes With Michelle Yeoh, sees her doing everything from feeding and caring for orangutans, to rescuing an orphaned orangutan, to trekking through the forests to collect seeds. The production was made by National Geographic in partnership with the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) under the Malaysia To The World 2 initiative. Yeoh began her two-and-a-half-week journey at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, a facility for orphaned and injured orangutans in Sandakan, Sabah.

Currently housing 53 of the orphaned apes, the centre’s aim is to nurse them back to health before releasing them back to the wild. With Sepilok’s veterinarian Dr Cecilia Boklin as her mentor, Yeoh got right into the nitty-gritty of life there, including bathing a three-year-old orangutan and teaching him how to climb. “It was an amazing experience,” Yeoh enthused. “It’s impossible not to fall in love with them. On my first day at Sepilok, one of the orangutans came right up to me and sat down, and put its hands on my lap!”

She did admit, however, that one had to be careful when dealing with the apes. “One of the problems is that they are very cute when they are babies, and people want them as pets. But after the age of three, they start getting very strong, and by five or six years old, they can’t be handled easily,” she said.

Yeah explained that as long as one kept calm and was respectful when dealing with the orangutans, they wouldn’t get spooked. There was even a point when she was on a feeding platform with some orangutans where they began picking leeches off her clothes and took her hand to lead her back to the forest. “I think they thought I was one of them too,” she said, laughing.

She was also surprised at how attached she got to the orangutans, and even adopted two at Sepilok. “They have the most soulful eyes, they really speak with their eyes. If you look at a flanged male, it’s like looking at the face of an elder statesmen, there’s so much wisdom there,” she said.

While these experiences were undeniably exciting, Yeoh hopes that the documentary will also shed light on the help that is needed to maintain the orangutan population, which once stretched from China to Java, but is now confined only to Sumatra and Borneo.

“I hope that after watching this programme, more locals will come in (to Sepilok) as volunteers. They need a lot of help, and currently, it seems to be more foreigners who are there helping out. It’s a shame that we have to get others to come protect our treasures,” Yeoh said. “Of course, it’s not just about cuddling the orangutans and playing with them, it also involves things like cleaning up their poop and going out into the jungle. It’s hard labour, but everyone there does it out of love,” she added.

Yeoh was also given a wider perspective on conservation when she visited the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, where she got to see her first wild orangutans. As one of the planet’s most endangered primates, it is vital for orangutans to have areas like the sanctuary in order to survive. Due to poaching and illegal logging, the apes have lost much of their natural habitat and have been forced into smaller areas, making it difficult for them to sustain a long-term population.

As the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is made up of several pockets of protected habitat, some of which are too small to sustain the animals, conservationists are currently working on creating forest corridors to link these areas together. Yeoh got a first-hand taste of the work involved in this when she climbed 25m into the forest canopy to help harvest seeds for planting.

“That was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do. I’ve done some tree-climbing in Costa Rica, and I stay in pretty good shape, so I thought it wouldn’t be too bad. Then, we started rehearsing, and I thought, ‘Wait a minute!’ We literally had to hoist ourselves up those huge trees, and I thought at one stage that I couldn’t do it. I just told myself that I was on TV, and I couldn’t look green in the face!”

Doing the documentary also kindled Yeoh’s passion for conserving as many of our country’s natural treasures as possible. “Going down the Kinabatangan river on a boat was one of my most amazing experiences! We talk about the Amazon river and other natural wonders, and yet, here we have one in our own backyard that most Malaysians have never visited,” she said, adding that she was already planning to return to Sabah to highlight other issues.

“This is definitely just a sweet, sweet beginning. We’ve already talked about doing another programme on the plight of the pygmy rhinocerous. I’m just lining them up, and I’ll definitely be back.”

Coming full circle, Yeoh’s time in Sabah ended with her meeting a group of orangutans that had been rehabilitated at Sepilok and released at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve a year ago. Having seen how well the apes have adapted to the forest, she then watched two more being released, hopefully to adapt and live full lives in the wild.

“If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from my time in Sabah, it’s that we have so many treasures that belong to us, and we have the responsibility to take care of them. We have to take this very seriously,” Yeoh concluded. “I implore everyone, especially Malaysians, to go with their families and have a look, and I promise that you will be filled with awe.”


Below is another article by my colleague dated 4th December 2009. There's plenty to be passionate about Sabah's jungle, as Lina Teoh's orangutan documentary is set to prove. HIZREEN KAMAL writes.

MOST people would remember her as the Miss World 1998 second runner-up, but those in our broadcasting industry know her as one of the new rising documentary producers. With over 15 years experience in the industry as a TV presenter, scriptwriter, actress and radio presenter/ producer, Lina Teoh has in the past four years, shifted her focus to documentary.

Her production credits for an international audience include Smart Tunnel for the National Geographic Channel (associate producer) and The Lion Dance King for the Discovery Channel (writer/ producer/ director).

And like many things she has done in her life, she did not just wake up one day and decide to become a documentary filmmaker.

While admitting that she had an innate fascination for life and non-fictional stories, and enjoys watching documentaries, she feels the element that drew her to producing documentaries is more organic.

"I think it was more my natural passion for people, animals, nature and conservation and this genre of storytelling that got me into it. So, when I was given an opportunity to work on a documentary, I thought ...why not. And I haven't looked back since," said this 33-year-old, who enjoys reading books based on real life events and personal accounts.

And, of course, having been involved in the TV industry for many years, she brings her vast experience into her documentary work. "I need constant challenges, and making documentaries is an area that gives me this and satisfaction, too," she said. "The best thing about working on documentaries is you work with a small and intimate team. And it is a wonderful feeling to see the finished product because you know you have done something to contribute in a positive way."

Recently, Teoh dug deep into the world of the orangutan when she collaborated with Kuala Lumpur-based film production company Novista Sdn Bhd to produce Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh. This 50-minute documentary, which took 18 months to produce tells of Malaysia's conservation efforts to protect the orangutan, which are among the planet's most endangered primates. Being the only great apes found in Asia, they now survive only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

As producer, Teoh has been involved in the many aspects of the production process, including research and directing. Fully-funded by the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas), the documentary is a joint initiative with National Geographic channel to encourage local development of documentary filmmaking for international audience.

To be eligible, filmmakers were required to submit a detailed proposal, budget and schedule for their films. The shortlisted 12 companies then pitched their story ideas to a panel from both Finas and the channel. And from there, only two stories were chosen and produced. Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh was one of them.

For this project, Teoh worked very closely with director Harun Rahman and executive producer/co-director Lara Ariffin. The trio is very passionate about environmental and conservation stories. "We wanted the film to highlight the positive things being done at the orangutan conservation in Sabah. The stories of the people on the ground who are doing all the conservation work are inspiring," said Teoh.

Teoh feels there are still many conservation stories to be highlighted and we need to start making some serious changes before losing one of the most beautiful and important eco-systems in the world. "While our planet will eventually recover, it is us who will end up dying or living in a world where there is no clean water to drink or fresh air to breathe. That is why we believe it is worth telling these stories to highlight what each of us can do to make the world a better place to live in."

On Yeoh hosting the documentary, Teoh said: "We didn't just want a pretty face. We also wanted someone who really cared for the apes so that the story is sincerely told from the heart.

Viewers will find Yeoh engaging and easy to relate to.

his is a Malaysian story, and naturally, it should be told by a Malaysian.

"Michelle was wonderful to work with. She is not only professional, but also a great sport, as she wanted to be involved in everything from day one. She was like a big sponge, constantly soaking up every experience. Easy-going and down-to-earth, and even though we were stuck in the jungle with creepy crawlies everywhere, she never once complained."

The documentary was filmed at three main locations in Sabah: the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Travelling to these locations was mostly via road and boats and the production crew had to trek through the jungle a lot, with most days beginning 5am.

As much as one prepares oneself, one can never be sure what is going to happen on the day, said Teoh. "It's a balance between what you hope to get and what you can actually get. And then there are always completely new things that will be thrown in, too. So, you really have to be on your toes and ever ready to make quick decisions.

"I must say we were very lucky during our filming, and we managed to get some spectacular footage of the proboscis monkeys, orangutan and the pygmy elephants. One of the most memorable moments was seeing a huge majestic flanged male. It is not common to see such a spectacular primate in the wild."

They also experienced difficulty while filming in Kinabatangan as they were mostly on a boat. And getting steady shots proved a little challenging - there was a particularly scary moment when three of the crew were chased by a huge elephant!

Teoh is now hoping to take a short break after the release of the documentary, but for sure, she will soon be back with more to offer.

Green concerns or trade barriers?

Malaysia's palm oil shipment to Rotterdam Port, the gateway to Europe has fallen by an average of 12 per cent every year since 2006's peak of 1.7 million tonnes.

This year, it is poised to shed another 30 per cent to 900,000 tonnes.

At the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) conference last month, environment activist Wetlands International called for an address of "the alarming emissions from forest and peat swamp areas' conversion into oil palm plantations".

The Netherlands-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) alleged that "the continuous emissions caused by drainage of carbon rich tropical peatsoil in Indonesia and Malaysia are enormous." At the end of the meeting, Wetlands lamented that its attempts to insert a Greenhouse Gas Emission criterion had been frustrated by members representing Indonesian and Malaysian oil palm planters.

In an interview with Business Times, Malaysian Palm Oil Association chief executive Datuk Mamat Salleh shed light on the ulterior motive and double standards deployed by the NGOs to the detriment of the global palm oil industry.

Under RSPO, palm oil has to be sustainably-produced. On the other hand, other vegetable oils like canola and soyaoil only need to be responsibly-produced. "Did you know that the term 'responsibly-produced' allows for genetically modified oilseeds?" Mamat questioned.

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth (FOE), and Wetlands International claim oil palm cultivation cause tropical deforestation. But these NGOs are silent on soyabean, rapeseed and sunflower farming causing deforestation in temperate countries.

"How come these NGOs do not lobby for reforestation in Europe and the US? At the very least they should campaign for 10 per cent of the 100 million hectares planted with soyabean, rapeseed and sunflower to be with replanted with trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the polluted air there.

"How come these NGOs do not tell their own governments to replant forest and restore the habitats for racoons, beavers, frogs, wild foxes, deers and bears?" Mamat posed more questions.

The United Nations Copenhagen Climate Summit, scheduled to run from December 7 to 18, will see 192 countries meet to set targets on carbon emissions. As the summit draws near, Greenpeace and its affiliates have become more vociferous for a moratorium on the forest and peatland in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Without providing scientific evidence that can be verified, these pressure groups claim oil palm planting on peatland pollutes the air to the extent that this agriculture activity makes Indonesia the world's third biggest polluter, after the US and China.

Surprisingly, there is no such call by these NGOs for a moratorium on cars, ships, airplanes, oil exploration, coal mining and petrochemical processing industries, which all emit more carbon dioxide to the air than agriculture. "Isn't it ironic that the carbon emission of 3.5 tonnes from one tonne of depleting fossil fuel is tolerated while biofuels, which have the advantage of being renewable, are abhorred even though they are proven to be 35 to 65 per cent less polluting than fossil fuels?" Mamat asked.

Human settlement, forest clearing, industrial revolution in developed countries have long emitted the large portion of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere now.

"These Europe-based NGOs just close two eyes to unsustainable farming in their home countries. When we questioned their silence, they concede with their own governments' view that it was their grandfathers' right to clear-cut forest for industrialisation.

"But what about our grandchildren's rights to progress and prosperity?" Mamat asked.

On the one hand, Malaysia and Indonesia face threats from Greenpeace, FOE and Wetlands activists who are skilful at propaganda to impose moratorium on tropical forest and peatland.On the other hand, global vegetable oils trade thrives best when markets open up for free competition and more respect is accorded to representative governance.

When placed together - it doesn't take a PhD in economics or political science to conclude that the true motive of these NGOs is to put up trade barriers against tropical nations' palm oil to benefit rapeseed and sunflower farmers who are heavily subsidised by the EU government.

In a separate interview, Malaysian Estate Owners Association (MEOA) president Boon Weng Siew explained how Malaysia's small and mid-sized oil palm estates are already practising sustainable oil palm planting by virtue of compliance with the country's environmental and labour laws.

Established in 1931, MEOA represent 153 small and medium-sized estates of more than 40 hectares. All oil palm planters, whether smallholders or estate owners, comply to the Environmental Quality Act 1974 and the Environmental Impact Assessment Order 1987.

"We prepare and submit EIA reports for agriculture land development covering an area of 500 hectares or more. Open burning of plant residue is prohibited," he said. Apart from eco-friendly laws, oil palm planters observe the Employment Act, the Industrial Relations Act and the Minimum Standard of Housing and Amenities Act.

Estate owners are not required, by law, to provide accommodation, schools, clinics and places of worship but many of MEOA members do so as part of their corporate social responsibilities. "However, when accommodation for workers is provided, the site and buildings must comply with the Minimum Standard of Housing and Amenities Act 1990. The clinic also has to comply with the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998," Boon said.

To date, Malaysia's oil palm plantations span across 4.5 million hectares. To a question on Greenpeace and FOE's claim that monoculture oil palms are unable to support wildlife diversity, making the estates sterile, Boon replied, "That is not true. Shrubs, ferns, fungi and herbs, monkeys, birds, wild fowls, squirrels, rats and snakes flourish in oil palm plantations."

Plants, mammals, insects, reptiles and birds have adapted to the oil palm ecosystem. "Oil palm estates are the green lungs that generate oxygen which the developed part of the country breathes, fulfilling many of the rainforest functions," he said.

Boon also said planters today do not just plant, harvest and sell. "Oil palm planters are now more aware of the whole supply chain from the point of applying fertiliser to milling. We are also familiar with traceability, food safety, environmental and social responsibilities," he said.

"Malaysia's palm oil production is already sustainable by virtue of compliance with national environmental and labour laws," Boon added.

All Cosmos to invest RM50m in Sabah plant

ALL Cosmos Industries Sdn Bhd is investing RM50 million in Sabah for a 200,000-tonne fertiliser plant, as its high organic content fertiliser is gaining popularity among oil palm planters.

Planters mainly use imported chemical fertiliser because it is proven to boost fruit production. However, it is also expensive and it could pollute rivers. All Cosmos' value-added fertiliser contains a blend of organic ingredients that let trees absorb more nutrients.

It currently offers more than 20 fertiliser variants formulated for oil palms, vegetables, fruits, flowers and rice.Marketed under the "RealStrong" label, chief executive officer Datuk Tony Peng Shih Hao said this formula mix is able to improve crop yield, increase fruit size and the tree immune system against deadly diseases like basal stem rot.

"We're expanding. Our Pasir Gudang plant is running at full capacity," he said. With RealStrong, planters use less fertiliser per tree, which also saves money for growers.

"The micro-organism in the biofertiliser also helps soften the soil in the oil palm estates and will improve yield over the long run," Peng told Business Times after sealing an agreement with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) on a joint research into enhancing micro-organisms' efficiency in the production of value added-fertiliser. Also present at the signing ceremony were UTM vice-chancellor Prof Dr Zaini Ujang and Massachusett Institute of Technology (MIT) Biology and Health Sciences & Technology Department head Prof Anthony J. Sinskey.

The Johor-based All Cosmos had recently invested RM7 million to set up a research and development (R&D) centre in Pasir Gudang. This will prove to be strategic for All Cosmos as it fits into the country's policy of boosting organic content, lowering risk of waterway pollution and reducing costly dependence on imported chemical fertiliser.

Palm oil help feed an increasingly hungry world

INDONESIA’S 7.1 million hectares (ha) of oil palm plantation’s current average oil yield of 2.8 tonnes per ha per year is set to surpass the 3-tonne mark by 2015, as trees mature and bear more fruits, says Indonesian Palm Oil Commission (Ipoc) executive chairperson Dr Rosediana Suharto.

“By 2015, the average oil yield at matured plantations should surpass 4 tonnes per ha per year as more young trees reach their prime fruit bearing age,” she told Business Times at the International Palm Oil Congress (PIPOC) 2009 in Kuala Lumpur last week.

“Big planters have their own replanting schedule. Since 2008, however, we’ve extended a helping hand to smallholders via the revitalisation programme. We want to increase our national average oil yield,” she said.

Ipoc collaborates with local commercial banks to facilitate cheaper loans to smallholders to replant their trees.High yielding seeds are sourced from the Indonesia Oil Palm Research Institute (Iopri), which contracts out hybrid seed breeding to 11 producers.

“Some of the Malaysian oil palm investors also have gentlemen agreements to supply high yielding seeds to smallholders within their plasma schemes,” she added.

Under the plasma scheme, the Indonesian government requires foreign investors to set aside 20 per cent of land to nurture smallholders in oil palm planting. While not all Malaysian investors are registered with Ipoc, Rosediana estimates that they operate 1.1 million ha of oil palm plantation there.

On this year’s palm oil output, Rosediana estimates it to be some 20 million tonnes, rising to 21 million tonnes in 2010, barring the occasional El Nino drought.

The United Nations Copenhagen Climate Summit, scheduled to start next month, will see 192 countries meet to set targets on carbon emissions. As heads of states from around the world prepare for the summit, Amsterdam-based Greenpeace stepped up its campaign for a forest moratorium in Indonesia.

Without providing data that can be verified, Greenpeace alleged destruction of Indonesia’s peatland forests alone accounts for 4 per cent of global annual emissions and placed the country third biggest polluter, after the US and China.

Is Greenpeace really a green group? Does it plant trees?

Greenpeace International 2007 annual report shows it received an annual contribution of €212 million (or RM1.07 billion) and the money was spent on propaganda. About €10 million (or RM50.7 million) was used for “forest campaign” but not a single cent went to tree planting.

It organises theatrical demonstrations and dangerous publicity stunts that sometimes end up causing grevious bodily harm and property damage. In the last few years, Greenpeace’s fleet of ships with fancy names like “Rainbow Warrior” and “Esperanza” have terrorised palm oil tankers at seaports in Indonesia and New Zealand.

As the Copenhagen Summit draws near, it has become apparent that Greenpeace, Wetlands International, Friends of the Earth (FOE) and World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) are political extensions of the ruling majority in the European Union that assumes changes in tropical forest aggravates global warming.

The fact is oil palm planting has helped reduce poverty in developing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. In balancing economics and ecologics, Rosediana noted these Europe-based environmental group tends to negate agriculture’s socio-economic contribution to the people of developing nations.

At the PIPOC 2009 evening forum on “Palm Oil: Balancing Ecologics with Economics”, United Plantations Bhd executive director and vice chairman Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen made a poignant statement before an audience of more than 1,000 people.

“There is nothing like poverty and hunger that hastens environmental degradation. Conservation means responsible development as much as it means protection.

“Today there are more than 1.4 billion people living on less than US$1.25 (RM4.22 ) per day. Whatever strategies these enviromental activists pursue to save Brazil or Borneo’s biodiversity must first offer ways for its residents to improve their lives,” he said.

International banks and funding institutions need to change their way of thinking about this.Better health, better education, better economic conditions — that will help to protect the environment.

“Very often we speak of the 3-P principle of People-Planet-Profit.Lets us not forget the basic needs of the people ...the right to clean water, electricity, proper housing, healthcare and education,” he said.

Bek-Nielsen then referred to the latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2009 report, which shows there are now more than one billion starving people in the world. After gains in the fight against hunger in the 1980s and early 1990s, the number of undernourished people started to climb in 1995. Hunger now affects a record of 1.02 billion people globally, or one in six. Among chief causes are financial meltdown, high food prices, drought, flood and civil wars.

FAO director-general Jacques Diouf was reported as saying that in the fight against hunger, the focus should be on increasing food production. “It’s common sense that agriculture should be given priority but ...the opposite has happened,” he said.

Falling agricultural investment in developing countries over the last decade has lead to rising hunger worldwide. Arable land for agriculture stays the same but the world’s population continue to grow. Today, it has surpassed 6.5 billion people.

Going forward, it is inevitable that oil palm trees, with its high oil yield, offers a sustainable solution to help feed the world. Farmers in temperate countries have a choice of planting sunflower for vegetable oil or wheat for flour. With more global consumption of palm oil, more land can be free from the less efficient-yielding sunflower, to plant wheat to ensure enough global supply of bread and noodles.

Malaysia Invites Palm Oil Skeptics for Site Tour

This newstory was published in Xinhua website, the Republic of China's national newswire service provider.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak called on skeptics who doubt the country's compliance of plantation standards to inspect its oil palm plantations.

"Skeptics who do not think that Malaysian oil palms are cultivated and harvested in way that meets the highest standards of sustainability should come and visit us, see if there are gaps in our governance and standards," he said.

"Help us repair those gaps, should they exist," Najib said at the Malaysia-Europe Forum while addressing some 300 participants in Kuala Lumpur. Also present were Malaysia-Europe Forum patron and advisor Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and Sime Darby Bhd chairman Tun Musa Hitam.

As the top palm oil exporter in the world, Malaysia inevitably attracts attention. This include unfounded criticisms, from various quarters, of allowing deforestation to take place for the development of oil palm plantations.

Najib said Malaysia and Europe needed to enhance their understanding of one another, of how they operated, how they perceived the world and how they did business. "By this, I mean to recognise there are fundamental differences between and Anglo-Saxon business model, which is how the European Union (EU) is organised, and the Asian business model," added Najib.

Recognising the EU as a responsible leader in setting quality standards in various industries, Najib urged Malaysian companies to work with their EU counterparts to resolve their differences and make improvements.

Najib also noted that the EU was important to Malaysia as it was the country's fourth largest trading partner in 2008, with total trade amounted to US$41 billion.

The Malaysia-Europe Forum aims to promote Malaysia in Europe and vice-versa through the exchange of views, furthering of mutual interests and enhancement of links between and among European and Malaysian stakeholders at a non-governmental level.

Bursa plans fee rebates to boost derivatives mart

Bursa Malaysia is looking to offer fee rebates to futures brokers in an effort to generate more liquidity in the local derivatives market.

"We'll submit a market-makers programme to the Securities Commission (SC) for approval," said Bursa derivatives acting general manager K. Sree Kumar.

"One of the incentives include a fee rebate to liquidity providers," he told reporters after presenting a paper on "Internationalisation of Malaysian Palm Oil: Challenges and Opportunities" at the PIPOC 2009 in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Earlier in the year, Bursa said it will step up efforts on market-making, having seen thin trade of the US dollar-denominated crude palm oil futures, known as FUPO, since its launch in September 2008.

Market-makers refer to futures brokerages and banks that accept risks by quoting both buy and sell prices in futures contracts, hoping to make a profit on the turn or the bid/offer spread.
There are now about 20 licensed futures brokerages facilitating palm oil trading on the Bursa Malaysia Derivatives market.

"We'll also hold discussions with traders, including palm oil refiners, to gain direct feedback on ways to enhance participation in the derivatives market," Sree Kumar said, adding that there have been requests for monthly publication of a more meaningful classification of trades on the derivatives market. "We'll discuss this with our surveillance team," he added.

Bursa had announced two months ago that it will sell a 25 per cent stake in its derivatives unit to CME Group Inc, to help globalise trading of Malaysian palm oil futures. CME will have the right to use settlement prices for its ringgit-denominated crude palm oil (CPO) futures contract while on its part, it will develop US dollar-denominated cash-settled palm oil futures contracts and related options to trade on CME Globex, the world's most widely distributed electronic trading platform.

Sales of futures products in the US are regulated by the Commodity Exchange Act and administered by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The 30.10 rules limit sales activities by those who are not members of the US exchanges, but an exemption is granted if the exchange outside the US demonstrates that its regulatory system provides equal or "comparable" customer safeguards to those in the US.

Sree Kumar confirmed Bursa is applying for the CFTC exemptions. "Once we secure exemptions from the CFTC, we will be able to market our products to US traders. Also, US commodity funds can come in and trade here," he said.

CME is scheduled to develop a US dollar denominated palm oil futures contract by the first half of 2010. In preparation, Bursa will jointly work out a business plan with CME to market that instrument. "We'll go on a roadshow with local futures brokers to promote this new instrument and existing products to traders. We'll also set up a CME Globex hub in Kuala Lumpur then," he added.

Sree Kumar said once these products are listed on CME Globex, there is a possibility that trading of Malaysian CPO futures could be extended to 22 hours. "Trading hours will most probably be extended from the current 10.30am to 6.00pm. Futures brokers will have to make this commercial decision and of course, it is also subject to the SC's approval," he added.

Green Neo-Colonialism

This is an article written by Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik and published in the New York Times on 6th October 2009.

Climate negotiators meeting in Bangkok this week in preparation for the Copenhagen climate summit in December seem no closer to an agreement on how best to balance economic growth and protection of the environment.

One obstacle comes from Europe, where an alliance of green activists, industry and policymakers has targeted Asia’s palm oil industry as a global villain and is threatening a trade war. These critics are wrong on the economics and the ecology.

In June, the European Council issued guidelines on the Renewable Energy Directive, which was adopted in December 2008. Its purpose is to encourage European consumers to use greener, sustainable sources of energy, such as biofuels.

This is a fine idea in principle. But as it turns out, the directive is a trade wolf in green sheep’s clothing.

Europe is one of the world’s leading producers of biofuels, mostly made from rapeseed oil. It accounts for two-thirds of the global market, with Germany as one of the largest producers.

Asian producers are increasingly important players in the global biofuels trade. Asian biofuels are a byproduct of palm oil, a sustainable vegetable oil and food staple for which demand is rapidly growing in Asia.

Palm oil biofuel cannot be produced in quantities that will rival vegetable oil-based fuels, but it is cheaper than rapeseed.

So, in predictable fashion, Europe’s agricultural industries are defaulting to their traditional practice when a cheaper and better product becomes available to European consumers. They have inserted trade barriers in the Renewable Energy Directive to restrict imports of biofuel. And, as usual, they are pretending that the barriers serve another purpose — in this case preserving forest biodiversity.

This joins the protectionist play to a broader campaign to discredit palm oil. European policy-makers echo arguments made by Western environmental activists that biofuels from Asia are environmentally troublesome because oil palm plantations reduce forest biodiversity.

These claims do not withstand scrutiny. Forest biodiversity is achieved by reserving areas of natural forest.

The Worldwide Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) says that around 10 per cent of the world’s forests needs to be conserved to achieve this goal. More than half of Malaysia’s land and one quarter of Indonesia’s, the two largest palm oil producers, are already set aside.

Conversely, the WWF target in forest preservation has not been reached in most of the European Union. In Germany, land reserved to conserve natural forest is just 4 per cent.

Where are the environmental activists’ demands to restrict E.U. trade to protect Europe’s forest biodiversity?

Furthermore, Asian biofuel is significantly more sustainable than European biofuel. It also uses much less land to produce the same amount of energy and generates 10 times as much energy as is required to produce it. By contrast, biofuels produced from European rapeseed generate only four times as much energy relative to the input.

Despite this, European biofuel producers and environmental activists are pressuring the E.U. to increase the trade coercion in the Renewable Energy Directive by restricting imports if something called “Indirect Land Use Change” occurs when they are produced.

Let me be plain about what this means. The conversion of forest land to produce higher value products like palm oil, cocoa or rubber is the leading means of reducing poverty in most developing countries. The idea being toyed with in Brussels is to use the threat of trade sanctions to pressure countries into giving up the leading anti-poverty tool.

Research from the Stern Review showed that the economic benefit to poor countries of growing palm oil vastly exceeded the value of any other use of the land. The World Bank, for example, found that developing palm oil was one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty in Indonesia. In Malaysia, palm oil was developed to create livelihoods for poor, landless farmers.

Asian governments and businesses are not asking for much — simply the chance to develop their natural resources as Europe did for hundreds of years.

There is a historical tendency in Europe to seek to mold others in its image. This was part of what some styled the “white man’s burden” during the colonial era. Has this tendency reasserted itself as the Green man’s burden?