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An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests

An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests

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Published by forestdata
12 prominent scientists point out inaccuracies in statements and reports published by Alan Oxley and World Growth International. The scientists say World Growth International should be viewed as a front group for industrial logging and plantation interests.
12 prominent scientists point out inaccuracies in statements and reports published by Alan Oxley and World Growth International. The scientists say World Growth International should be viewed as a front group for industrial logging and plantation interests.

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: forestdata on Oct 25, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/04/2013

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An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and theConservation of Tropical Forests
 
To whom it may concern:As professional scientists employed by leading academic and research institutions, we arewriting to alert the general public about some of the claims and practices being used by theWorld Growth Institute (WGI) and International Trade Strategies Global (ITS), and theiraffiliated leadership.WGI and ITS operate in close association. ITS is owned by Alan Oxley, an Australianindustrial lobbyist, former trade representative, and former Ambassador who also heads WGI.According to its website
1
, ITS also has "close associations" with several politicallyconservative US think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the CompetitiveEnterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.In our personal view, WGI and ITS—which are frequently involved in promoting industriallogging and oil palm and wood pulp plantations internationally—have at times treaded a thinline between reality and a significant distortion of facts. Specifically, we assert that:
 
ITS is closely allied with, and frequently funded by, multinational logging, wood-pulp, and oil palm corporations. The financial supporters of ITS include parentcorporations producing paper and wood products under the aegis of ‘Asian Pulp &Paper’, among others.
 
Alan Oxley and ITS have often lobbied in favor of Rimbunan Hijau
2
, one of theworld’s largest industrial logging corporations. Rimbunan Hijau has been repeatedlycriticized for its environmental and human-rights impacts in Papua New Guinea
3,4
.
 
WGI frequently lobbies public opinion on the behalf of Sinar Mas holdings, aconglomerate of mostly Indonesian logging, wood-pulp, and oil palm companies thatincludes Golden Agri Resources, a Singapore-based firm. One of these companies,known as ‘SMART’, could face expulsion by the Roundtable on Sustainable PalmOil, an industry-led trade group, for “serious non-compliance with the RSPO Code of Conduct” with respect to its environmental and social sustainability guidelines
5
.
 
 
In an interview with Malaysia’s
The Star 
newspaper, in which he strongly advocatedfurther oil palm expansion in that country, Mr Oxley refused to answer a directquestion as to whether he or WGI was supported by the Malaysian palm oil industry.He dismissed this question as being “immaterial”
6
. We believe that WGI’s financialsupporters include many of the same industrial sectors for which WGI regularlyadvocates.
 
While routinely accusing several environmental organizations and theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of bias and scientificmisrepresentation, WGI and ITS have, in our opinion, advanced a range of biased ordistorted arguments themselves. For example, consider an ostensibly “independent”
 
2
audit
7
from ITS that sought to exonerate Asian Pulp & Paper from claims of illegaland damaging logging practices in Sumatra, Indonesia. This audit appears to be farfrom objective in scope, especially given the clear financial links between these twoentities, which brings into question its claims to be “independent”. Among otherclaims, the ITS audit broadly understates the scope and gravity of forest loss anddegradation in Indonesia, despite that nation having among the world’s highestabsolute rates of deforestation
8
and being ranked 7
th
worst out of 200 nations in termsof net environmental damage, according to a recent analysis
9
. It also suggests that thepalm oil and pulp and paper industries are not important drivers of deforestation andgreenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia. Yet recent research has demonstrated thatmuch of the oil palm expansion in Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 came at theexpense of native forests
10
(many plantation owners favor clearing native forests overalready-degraded lands as they use revenues from logging to offset the costs of plantation establishment
11
). Moreover, the rapid expansion of pulp plantations is aserious driver of native-forest loss in both Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia.
12
 
 
A recent technical report by ITS concluded that “There is no evidence of substantialdeforestation” in Papua New Guinea
13
, a conclusion strongly at variance withquantitative, remote-sensing studies of forest conversion published in the refereedscientific literature
14,15
.
 
Reports from WGI and ITS routinely claim that newly established oil palmplantations sequester carbon more rapidly than do old-growth rainforests. This claim,while technically correct, is a distraction from the reality that mature oil palmplantations store much less carbon than do old-growth rainforests (plantations store just 40-80 tons of biomass aboveground, half of which is carbon, compared to 200-400 tons of aboveground biomass in old-growth rainforests
16
). WGI and ITS reportshave also in our view dismissed or downplayed other important environmentalconcerns, including the serious impact of tropical peat-land destruction on greenhousegas emissions
17
and the impact of forest disruption on threatened species such asorangutans and Sumatran tigers
18,19
. Furthermore, WGI and ITS, we believe, havefailed adequately to recognize that many forests of high conservation value are beingdestroyed and fragmented by plantation development
20
—a process that is mostlydriven by corporations, not small holders.
 
WGI, ITS, and Alan Oxley frequently invoke “poverty alleviation” as a key justification for their advocacy of oil palm expansion and forest exploitation indeveloping nations, and it is true that these sectors do offer significant localemployment. Yet forest loss and degradation also have important societal costs.There are many examples in which local or indigenous communities in the tropicshave suffered from large-scale forest loss and disruption, have had their traditionalland rights compromised, or have gained minimal economic benefits from theexploitation of their land and timber resources
4,21
. Such costs are frequently ignoredin the arguments by WGI, ITS, and Alan Oxley.
 
One of the most serious misconceptions being promulgated by WGI and ITS in ourview is that “two-thirds of forest clearance is driven by low-income people in poorcountries”
22
. In fact, the importance of industrial drivers of deforestation—whichincludes large-scale palm oil and wood-pulp plantations, industrial logging, large-scale cattle ranching, large-scale farming of soy, sugarcane, and other crops, and oil
 
 
and gas exploration andecades
23,24
. These inexpansion of roads inand degradation
25
. Suthe governments of deresources, both via legcause of tropical foresindustrialization and gfailing accurately to cthreat to tropical fores In summary, our goal is not tenvironmentally and sociallydeveloping and transitional nestablished on previously def either directly or indirectly tolargely acceptable environmeHowever, we do assert that arepresent significant distortiocases, the arguments they havargue is designed to defend thindirectly supporting them finor advocacy groups, not as inaccordingly.Sincerely,William F. Laurance, Ph.D.Distinguished Research ProfePrince Bernhard Chair in InteJames Cook University, CairnThomas E. Lovejoy, Ph.D.Biodiversity Chair, The HeinUniversity Professor, GeorgeSir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VProfessor and Director Emeritd development—has risen dramatically in thustrial drivers are largely responsible for thropical frontier regions, which facilitates mah industries and their lobbyists also create gveloping nations to allow access to their landal and illegal means
26,27
. Hence, a crucial anloss and degradation today is rapidly increalobalization. We believe WGI either fails tonvey, the real and growing magnitude of inds.defend any environmental organization or tquitable development is not an important otions. Nor we dispute that oil palm plantatiorested or abandoned lands such that they dodeforestation, can have important economictal costs.umber of the key arguments of WGI, ITS, as, misrepresentations, or misinterpretationspresented amount to a “muddying of the we credibility of the corporations we believe aancially. As such, WGI and ITS should be tependent think-tanks, and their arguments wssor & Australian Laureatenational Nature Conservations, Queensland, AustraliaCenter, Washington, D.C., USAMason University, Virginia, USAHus of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK
3
past 1-2explosivessive forest lossreat pressures ons and naturald overarchingingcomprehend, or isustrial drivers as asuggest that jective forns, whennot contributebenefits andnd Alan Oxleyf fact. In otherters,” which were directly oreated as lobbyingeighted

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