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Greenpeace orangutan activists protest HSBC involvement in destroying the rain forest and it's inhabitants in Indonesia.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the office this morning. A bunch of orangutans informed me that the UK bank HSBC (one of the world’s largest financial institutions)  might be helping an Indonesian palm oil manufacturer deforest large sections of the Indonesian rain forest and add several tons of green house gas CO2 to the atmosphere.  And, according to Greenpeace, by  investing in deforestation HSBC is pushing endangered species like the orangutan and Sumatran tigers to the brink of extinction.

That’s a lot to take in before my first cup of coffee.

According to a Greenpeace website blog HSBC positions itself as an environmentally responsible bank.  Their  policy is not to invest in companies that destroy rain forests and they offer mutual fund that invests in companies offering climate solutions. This all sounds pretty good.

But here’s where it get’s tricky. HSBC has a fund called the Global Climate Change Fund and one of its holdings is  Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producer.  The Sinars Mars  company is part of the  Global Climate Change Fund portfolio because they are looking to turn palm oil into a climate-friendly, low-carbon,  biodiesel. This still sounds sort of good.

Here’s the problem, Sinars Mars seems to be destroying Paradise rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands to make room for its palm oil plantations, often breaking industry standards and Indonesia law in the process.

HSBC has an ethical forestry policy, which means they won’t ” finance plantation converted from natural forest since June 2004.” The loophole is that this rule currently does not apply to its asset management funds.  I’m confused. Isn’t having a company in one of your funds the same as investing?

So what does this mean to the world? According to a January report by  Renewable Fuels Agency, the UK government’s biofuels regulator, wiping out rainforest to make palm oil fuel doesn’t really help  the environment at all. In fact it does a lot of harm.

In fact, the article in the Guardian quoted the report,  stating: “If palm oil expansion causes loss of natural forest, the carbon release associated will negate any potential carbon savings from the use of palm biodiesel.” The land use change emissions from deforestation would take “130 years to repay” in carbon benefits from palm oil biodiesel, and the “carbon payback for biodiesel feedstock produced on peatland can be measured in millennia”.

Its hard not to get a little depressed when a government agency is talking about damage that will take hundreds to millions of years to repair.  Or when Greenpeace tells me more animals are endangered, basically  by corporate greed.  And even worse, if it weren’t for those activists in Monkey suits this morning, I’d probably have never known.

Sign this Greenpeace petition and tell HSBC that their corporate loophole isn’t going to fly. Tell them to have the courage of their convictions by pulling their financial support from Sinar Mas and their illegal, unethical  deforestation practices.


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