Papua New Guinea's Woodlark Island Rainforests to Be Cleared for Oil Palm Agrofuels

One of the most disappointing developments for climate change campaigners recently has been the misplaced belief that biofuels have anything other than a very marginal role to play in tackling the problem. As an illustration of the lunatic obsession with biofuels, or rather the lucrative financial opportunities it offers the unscrupulous, the case of Woodlark Island provides a tragic example.

The oil palm biofuel industry – the scourge of Asia and the world's rainforests – is continuing to expand into Papua New Guinea (PNG). The government continues to approve rainforest destruction and diminishment whilst at the same time very vocally seeking to be paid with carbon market funds for their "protection".

Woodlark Island is a small island, some 80,000-85,000 hectares, in the Pacific with a population of 6,000 residents. The Malaysian biofuel company, Vitroplant, plans to convert 60,000 hectares to palm oil plantations for biofuels. Vitroplant has been granted necessary permits by the PNG government to begin clearing 70% of the rainforests on biodiversity-rich Woodlark Island in order to establish a massive plantation of oil palm trees. A solid majority of villagers reportedly oppose the project, and were not even aware of it until after its approval.

Expansion of oil palm plantations at the expense of primary rainforests runs contrary to PNG's government support for preserving rainforests for climate and other benefits. Prime Minister Somare's government has been highly vocal, including at the recent Bali climate talks, regarding the desirability of "avoided deforestation" payments. Yet large scale industrial logging and now oil palm expansion continues to severely diminish PNG's rainforest and carbon storage capital.

An oil palm plantation on Woodlark Island will endanger the island’s flora and fauna, cause environmental upheaval, and result in drastic cultural change. Woodlark Island is home to at least nineteen endemic species, including a speckled nocturnal marsupial called the Woodlark Cuscus, and an endemic ebony tree. The initial logging would cause many of these rare species to go extinct, and toxic waste and runoff will threaten freshwater and marine ecosytems.

Woodlark Island continues to maintain a social and ecological system that has supported human and other life for millennia; with healthy forests, wildlife and humans. Those opposing the project locally are concerned with disintegration of the native culture and starvation as gardening and hunting activities are displaced.

Throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, large swathes of rainforest have been, and continue to be, destroyed to produce biofuel crops. Oil palm has many uses, but increasingly it is used in biodiesel in Europe and elsewhere, raising ethical issues of burning a food product for fuel. Oil palm agrofuel is heralded as a climate change mitigation measure, yet the initial rainforest clearance leads to much more carbon release than its production and use avoids.

The islanders of Woodlark have worked hard to draw international attention to this issue, and have issued an appeal for the support of international NGOs and citizens to pressure the government to withdraw the project. Please do so below.

For more information on Biofuel issues go to and to send a pre-drafted letter of protest to Mr Somare go to