The last free-living orangutan in Indonesia could die in 2022: By then, 98 percent of all suitable rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra - the last home of the red great apes - will have been destroyed, according to a new study by Christian Nellemann and other researchers on behalf of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The animals are not even safe in national parks, because in 37 of 41 protected areas examined, wood is being felled without restraint and forest is being converted into agricultural land. In addition, illegal mining, clearing fires and the also illegal hunting of orangutans burden the population. Since 2002, their population has been halved from an estimated 60,000 individuals – at least 1,000 individuals fell victim to the fires at the end of 2006 alone.
However, the Indonesian government is not the only one to blame for this misery, which cannot get the mafia-like structures in the timber business under control - most of the clearing is ultimately the responsibility of foreign and local companies with connections in the highest military and government circles and not on that poor peasant. A large part of the responsibility lies equally with European and especially German politicians, who refuse to look the Southeast Asian realities in the eye and neglect climate protection as well as species protection.
Because despite repeated appeals by the Indonesian government to the European Union and its most important states to take stricter action against the illegal trade in tropical timber, local legislation falls far short of the necessary requirements. Just last November, for example, the Bundestag, with a majority of votes from the grand coalition, rejected a jungle protection law that should have made the purchase and sale of looted timber a punishable offense. This was officially justified – by Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, among others – with an EU regulation on climate protection, which is also intended to regulate the protection of tropical forests (Forest L aw E nforcement, G overnance and T rade, called FLEGT). It is legally above national law and would therefore restrict domestic legislation, according to the argumentation of the federal government.
In fact, the opposite is the case, as the ARD magazine "Monitor" explained on November 16, 2006, even before the current UNEP report. Accordingly, the European Commission strongly recommends that legislation against the trade in timber from illegal sources should also be enacted at national level. FLEGT, on the other hand, only regulates EU imports and exports. Timber that fluctuated within the community after overcoming this hurdle could be sold without pen alty. As "Monitor" went on to explain, in their rejection, the members of parliament even used the choice of words that was argued by lobbyists in the timber industry and confirmed in an interview by Rudolf Luers, Managing Director of the German Timber Trade Association. It is not only the environmental organization WWF that sees this as a capitulation to the economy and the internationally operating timber mafia: According to a Forsa survey, around ninety percent of Germans are in favor of stronger protection of the primeval forest.
And on another point, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Environment Minister put profane economic interests above nature and climate protection. The cultivation of oil palms, the fruits of which are used to produce biodiesel, is becoming a real and, above all, rapidly increasing threat to orangutans (and many rainforests worldwide). According to the WWF, Germany is the world's largest importer of palm kernel oil, the seventh most important buyer of crude palm oil and the second largest trading partner for Indonesian palm oil in the EU after the Netherlands. Around 14 million hectares of land are to be turned into oil palm plantations in the next few years to meet the growing demand. To a large extent, this is happening on former rainforest areas whose vegetation was previously destroyed by fire - the emissions of which exacerbate the greenhouse effect and put Southeast Asia under a cloud of smoke that is hazardous to he alth.
The Federal Government and the European Commission studiously overlook such serious side effects: Their binding initiative for more – allegedly climate-friendly – biofuel at European petrol pumps is no different. It would be counterproductive and probably deadly for the orangutans if watertight, certified proofs of origin for palm oil were not immediately made mandatory and the protection of the remaining Southeast Asian rainforests not made the top priority.
In addition, a law against the illegal timber trade must be passed as soon as possible, which, in addition to ecological incidents, also results in major social and humanitarian catastrophes - the recurring deadly floods and landslides in Indonesia prove it. That and a very profane ethical argument speak for more protection of the primeval forest: The extinction of the orangutans (and thus one of our closest relatives) would be a shame for mankind - also and above all for politicians who think green.