Alex Armstrong

Ending Deforestation is Not Enough, Agroforestry is a Must for Cocoa Sustainability

All cocoa production worldwide must transition away from pesticide-soaked monoculture to robust agroforestry systems.

The Voice Network’s newly published paper, Agroforestry in the Cocoa Sector: A Need for Ambitious Collaborative Landscape Approaches, introduces key insights for that transformation. This paper addresses shortcomings in current approaches to agroforestry cocoa, such as low adoption rates for farmers and lack of monitoring. It also provides detailed and achievable recommendations on a way forward for industry and producer governments.

Despite efforts to end deforestation in the cocoa industry, cocoa production has already had a profound impact on the world’s forests. The two largest producers of cocoa, Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire, are estimated to have lost between 80-95 percent of their forests. One third of that deforestation is the result of cocoa production, often in monocultures. This deforestation has already led to widespread rainfall loss and unpredictable weather patterns, pushing both countries – alongside neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso – closer to desertification and climate chaos. Trees are rain machines. Kill them, you kill the rains. Replant them, rains can return.

Further, the predominant model of monoculture cocoa farming undermines biodiversity. Moving from monoculture to agroforestry enhances biodiversity of flora and fauna. An estimated 80 percent of the world’s insects are already gone. We are in the midst of a mass extinction. There is no room for pesticide-soaked monoculture cocoa and other crops, if the planet is to avoid an extinction crisis and extirpation of insects that are the building blocks of all life on the planet.

Whereas monoculture cocoa has led to widespread soil degradation, agroforestry practices help heal the soils and reintroduce biodiversity underground, which remains vital though invisible to most people. Agroforestry is widely known to preserve and strengthen soil moisture and fertility, contribute to air moisture retention, and stimulate rainfall through microclimatic control – which again is crucial for healthy soils and the long-term viability of agriculture.

Fortunately, the introduction of robust cocoa agroforestry systems can also promote carbon sequestration, pest control, long-term productivity, and resilience of growing areas in a much-needed transition.

Agroforestry is not only climate-friendly – it is also profitable. Recent trends show increased investment in agroforestry systems, and some experts estimate that “agroforestry systems can create eight times more profit than conventional agriculture.”

Ending deforestation is key. Agroforestry is not a viable alternative to natural forests. However, it should be used to improve already deforested and agricultural lands. Six prominent carbon scientists recently published a paper which demonstrates that regenerative agriculture/agroforestry can significantly contribute to climate mitigation by reducing emissions and improving soil health.

Agroforestry can be beneficial for people as well as the planet. When rolled out correctly, agroforestry systems can provide cocoa farmers with trees that provide food security and income diversification, protecting them from the vicissitudes of economic shocks inherent in monocropping. No responsible investor would dream of buying shares in only one company – likewise, no farmer should be entirely dependent on the fluctuations in the global price of just one commodity.

Most cocoa companies currently define agroforestry poorly, and many have set inadequate goals as well as shoddy implementation plans, which are not shaped by the best available science. Not all approaches are alike; a watered-down approach will lead to watered-down results.

However, high-ambition, collaborative landscape approaches to agroforestry will enable companies to see the same if not better yields and will put farmers in the driver’s seat in a bottom-up approach that is adapted to local realities – not a top-down command-and-control approach that further bankrupts already-exploited cocoa smallholder farmers. The time to phase out monoculture and roll out beneficial agroforestry cocoa systems worldwide is now.

Photo © J. Milz - ECOTOP

Another Major Company Drops Cargill over Deforestation Concerns

IntraFish reports that “Global salmon giant Grieg Seafood has excluded Cargill Aqua Nutrition from the proceeds of its $92 million green bond until its parent company Cargill has significantly reduced its soy-related deforestation risk in Brazil.” In response to the news, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"Cargill’s recklessness has destroyed forests, fueled climate change, displaced Indigenous communities, and imperiled workers from vulnerable communities in its meat plants. But today, a new victim of Cargill's recklessness has emerged — Cargill itself.

"Norwegian salmon company Grieg Seafood has announced that it will exclude Cargill from its $92 million green bond, citing concerns about Cargill's ties to deforestation in Brazil. This news is just the latest blow to Cargill's bottom line, as a growing number of consumer-facing companies are unwilling to associate their hard-earned brands with Cargill's sullied reputation. Late last year, Nestlé announced it would cease purchases of Cargill's Brazilian soybeans over fears they were being grown on deforested land.

"Cargill has responded with the usual vague statements and commitments that never seem to find their way beyond a piece of paper. Major supermarket chains like Costco and Casino should take notice: Cargill hasn't changed, and doing business with deforesters is a liability that your customers will no longer accept."

Project to Build Japan's Largest Palm Oil Burning Power Plant Defeated

Environmental groups call on government to reform renewable energy incentives and for H.I.S. to abandon plans to build a similar plant

KYOTO, JAPAN – Environmental groups are celebrating today’s dissolution of Maizuru Green Initiatives GK, a company set up to build a palm oil burning power plant in Maizuru City, Japan. The controversial large-scale 66-megawatt biomass power plant was the subject of a 9 months-long campaign by local residents with support from Japanese and international environmental groups.

“This is a great victory for tropical forests and the residents of Maizuru. We are now calling on travel company H.I.S. in Miyagi and Sankei Energy in Kyoto to end their involvement with palm oil power plants, and for the Japanese government to stop subsidizing biomass power that worsens climate change,” said Yuichiro Ishizaki of HUTAN Group.

The Maizuru power plant sparked controversy for its use of palm oil as its primary fuel source. Malaysia and Indonesia are the primary producers of palm oil for Japan. Native tropical forests, including habitat for endangered orangutans, are being lost, with 3.5 million hectares of tropical rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia converted into oil palm plantations over the last 20 years. Japan imports approximately 750,000 tons of palm oil per year, mainly for use in foods and products. If the Maizuru palm oil power plant were constructed, it would significantly add to this burden, burning an additional 120,000 tons per year.

Pressure from residents, including a petition with 11,000 signatures, prompted the project sponsor, AMP Energy of Toronto, Canada to withdraw from the project in April 2020. In a letter sent on Earth Day (April 22), Executive Chairman Paul Ezekiel stated: “Going forward, our company and our group will not consider power generation business that uses palm oil as its fuel.” Ezekiel was also quoted citing project difficulties which included “strong opposition from local residents.”

AMP’s withdrawal left a question as to whether the plant constructor and operator, Hitachi Zosen, would look for a new sponsor. At its annual shareholder meeting on June 23, 2020, Takashi Morimoto from the Maizuru residents group raised concerns and questioned Hitachi Zosen Managing Director Toshiyuki Shiraki about their plans for this plant. Shiraki responded that Hitachi Zosen would withdraw from this project. When asked for an explanation by a reporter, Shiraki stated: “It is because we have no prospect of investing in palm oil in the future.” Maizuru City followed suit, with the mayor announcing on June 26 that the city would no longer pursue the power plant project.

“It was all hands on deck for what we expected to be a years-long fight against this plant. It is amazing that we were able to see its cancelation in just nine months. I believe we were able to achieve victory due to a combination of local grassroots activities and advice from experienced NGOs. The world is full of problems, but I believe people in other regions can also change society for the better,” offered Takashi Morimoto of the Environmental Group of Maizuru West District.

Maizuru Plant Part of Larger Trend

In Japan, government incentives have spurred the use of palm oil for power generation. In 2012, Japan began incentives to support renewable energy (through the “feed-in-tariff” or FiT) where the government guarantees utilities will purchase electricity generated from renewable energy at a fixed price. Until recently, the feed-in-tariff system had the highest incentive in the world for biomass power (primarily wood pellets, palm kernel shells and palm oil) of 24 yen/KWh.

The more palm oil is burned for biomass power generation, the more global demand for palm oil will increase. As of March 2018, the total capacity of the palm oil power plant projects approved under the Japan’s FiT system was 1700 MW. If all were to be built, 3.4 million tons of palm oil would be burned each year -- nearly five times more than Japan’s current palm oil imports. This surge in demand threatens to have a huge environmental impact.

Japanese environmental advocates are battling a second large palm oil power plant under construction in Kakuda City, Miyagi Prefecture, and to date have collected 200,000 signatures against it. This plant is being built by H.I.S. Super Power, an affiliate of Japanese travel giant H.I.S.

“As a travel company, H.I.S. runs ecotours to places like Borneo, promoting a chance to experience the wonder of the natural world. How can they explain to these customers why they are also involved in a business which will burn large amounts of forest-destroying palm oil to make electricity? We are calling upon H.I.S. to follow Hitachi Zosen’s lead and renounce their involvement in palm oil power plants,” stated Kanna Mitsuta of Friends of the Earth, Japan.

Subsidizing Climate Change Biomass Worsens Climate Change

Unfortunately, Japanese government policy failed to put safeguards in place to avoid fuel sources linked to deforestation and with significant greenhouse gas emissions. A 2019 analysis done for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) showed that palm oil had similar emissions to natural gas over its lifecycle (including cultivation, processing, transportation). However, when tropical forests are cleared, emissions increase five times; when peatlands are developed, emissions increase a staggering 139 times.

In addition to burning palm oil, Japan’s biomass policies also incentivize cutting down forests and burning wood, a practice that hinders our progress against climate change, as new trees regrow and reabsorb carbon slowly. Most wood burned in Japan is shipped from Vietnam or North America.

Maizuru Plant Attracted International Opposition

The Maizuru palm oil power plant attracted international attention, with environmental groups alarmed at Japan’s surge of biomass power plants. In a joint letter to 44 domestic and international financial institutions, 25 groups from 8 countries opposed this project, and palm oil power in general.

“The clock is ticking in our fight against global climate change – with only a few years to act, we cannot afford to waste time on false climate solutions,” said Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Deborah Lapidus. “Burning palm oil accelerates the destruction of the forests we need to absorb carbon. Burning wood biomass literally sends years’ worth of carbon sequestration up in smoke. Halting the Maizuru plant is an important step in ending the false promise of biomass and will help put the focus on truly renewable power solutions.”

Urgent Need to Reform Japan’s Renewable Energy Incentive Program

In April 2020, after calls for reform, METI required greenhouse gas assessment for new biomass fuel types under the feed-in-tariff. Advocates are urging METI to also place strict greenhouse gas emissions limits on existing fuels including palm oil, wood pellets and palm kernel shells.

“Japan’s renewable energy incentives should not subsidize fuels that worsen climate change,” stated Sayoko Iinuma of Global Environmental Forum. “Due to its high greenhouse gas emissions, palm oil should be excluded from the feed-in-tariff, and METI needs to adopt strict emissions limits for wood biomass as well.”

Campaign website (Japanese/limited English):

Ensuring a Green EU Recovery Plan for the Tire, Rubber, and Auto Industries

This week, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the need to ensure environmental and human rights conditions for all EU bailouts and recovery support. The letter is reprinted below and available here.

Dear President von der Leyen,

Thank you for your environmental leadership and commitment to advancing the European Green Deal as the basis of the EU’s recovery strategy, and we applaud the proposed €40bn Just Transition Fund to assist member states to transition towards climate neutrality and a more circular economy.

Mighty Earth is a global environmental organization with a significant and growing interest in ending land-grabbing, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction linked to commodities imported into the EU. We focus heavily on areas of outsized importance to the climate that receive insufficient attention from policymakers and the private sector. We have driven adoption of zero-deforestation sourcing policies across the palm oil, cocoa and rubber industries, and helped launch a CSO-industry partnership, Responsible Steel, under which several of the world’s largest steel companies have committed to science-based targets.

In that context, I am writing to urge you to ensure all post Covid-19 EU bailout and recovery support for EU-based tire and rubber, auto, car rental, ride-share and aviation companies is aligned with the European Green Deal, supports environmental and human rights standards, and helps build a green, just and healthy economy.

The rubber industry

The tire and automotive industries are the largest market for natural rubber. Between 2003 and 2014, the rubber industry tore down 75,000 square kilometers of tropical forest, an area the size of Ireland. This deforestation was responsible for an estimated 3.75 gigatons of pollution during that time, comparable to the amount produced by Europe in a year. Land-grabbing is widespread in the sector, and we are finding companies are using the Covid-19 lockdown as a cover to seize and clear land while nobody appears to be watching. For example, in March, Vietnam-based HAGL destroyed forests on two sacred mountains earmarked for return to local Indigenous peoples in Ratanakiri in Cambodia. HAGL’s largest investor is THACO, which assembles cars in Vietnam for auto companies including Peugeot, Mazda and Kia. While low rubber prices in the last few years have reduced incentives for deforestation and land-grabbing, increased commodity prices in the absence of strong conservation policies would create new incentives for aggressive deforestation.

Planning a post-pandemic recovery to ensure a greener future

High volumes of EU and EU-backed bailout support distributed over the coming months will shape the EU tire and rubber, auto, car rental, ride-share and aviation industries for years to come. Many EU-based companies in these sectors will benefit from this support. EU airlines are seeking €33bn in emergency bailout support, while tire companies like Continental, Michelin and Pirelli are seeking state aid, bailout or recovery assistance. Insisting on green conditions is possible: Air France-KLM was required to halve emissions, cut short-haul flights, and use more sustainable aviation fuel by 2024 to qualify for bailouts from the French and Dutch governments. However, few other bailouts to the transport sector have set conditions on carbon emissions or deforestation, let alone curbing the human rights abuses so rampant in the rubber industry.

Action Points

We urge you to ensure that all EU-based companies that rely on rubber in their key products or connected to transport are aligned with the European Green Deal and legally bound by environmental and human rights conditions when accessing EU or EU-backed recovery support. In particular, we would ask you and your colleagues within the Commission to tie public EU and EU-backed recovery funds to the following conditions:

1) Environment

All companies receiving bailout funds should be committed to the European Green Deal, the Paris Agreement, and to achieving net zero carbon neutrality by 2025. They should all have measurable action plans to transition towards a net zero carbon future. Airlines should set out plans for carbon neutrality by 2025 and for rapidly shifting to sustainable aviation fuels and mitigating the full climate impacts of the industry, including rubber deforestation. Auto, car rental and ride-share companies should set a target date by which they only provide electric vehicles made from low carbon materials – including zero carbon steel – and vehicle-scrappage should be in line with circular economy principles. All tire, rubber and auto companies seeking EU or EU-backed bailouts should have clear ‘Zero Deforestation’ and ‘Fire-free’ sourcing policies for natural rubber and time-bound plans to implement and enforce them. To quality for aid, these companies should have credible plans in place to achieve transparency and traceability throughout their raw materials supply chains, which will ultimately be necessary for them to align with the EU’s deforestation action plan.

2) Human Rights

Businesses seeking EU bailout support should have robust policies and practices in place that recognize and ensure workers’ rights throughout their supply chains. This means a commitment to the ILO Core Conventions, which include human rights commitments on health and safety, freedom of association, gender equity and on forced, bonded, trafficked and child labor. All corporations should be committed to a living income and living wage. Tire and rubber corporations in particular should commit to recognize and respect the customary land tenure rights of Indigenous and local communities, as well as to ending all involvement in harassment, attacks, or killings of Indigenous peoples and local community members defending their land, forests and other natural resources.

This moment represents a significant opportunity to build a healthy, low and zero-carbon economy. I would be delighted to have an opportunity to discuss these proposals with you or your staff.


Glenn Hurowitz
Chief Executive Officer, Mighty Earth

Video: Ivory Coast Battles to Save Cocoa-Ravaged Forests

Decades of intensive cocoa farming led to rapid economic development in the Ivory Coast, and turned the country into the world's top producer of the chocolate ingredient. But clearing land for farming all but wiped out the Ivory Coast's forests. An ambitious new forestry policy could reverse that. It aims to take back control of government-managed parks and forest reserves. Amourlaye Toure works for the campaign group Mighty Earth. "We need to act, it is an emergency today. Because if we don't act quickly we risk losing the entirety of our forests. Already 90% of our primary forests in Ivory Coast have been lost between 1960, when we gained independence, until 2000, so in the space of half a century."

Watch the full video from Reuters World News.

On World Rainforest Day, Global Brands Must Honor Commitment to End Deforestation by 2020

Global coalition of environmental and human rights groups calls on Consumer Goods Forum to back sustainability promises with clear actions to protect forests, the climate, and human rights

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on World Rainforest Day, environmental and human rights advocates called on global brands to honor their commitment to end deforestation before a self-imposed deadline expires this year.

In a newly released letter sent to the Consumer Goods Forum, a CEO-level organization that brings together over 400 global retailers and manufacturers, a large and growing coalition of more than 75 environmental and human rights groups reiterated their 2019 call for CGF members to “take ambitious and immediate action to eliminate and remedy deforestation, peatland destruction, and human rights violations throughout their supply chains and support necessary legal and policy reforms.” In addition to climate and environmental concerns, the groups are also concerned that noxious haze from burning forests will further exacerbate the public health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last September, our organizations wrote to demand evidence that the CGF and its member companies are prepared to take real action to eliminate and remedy deforestation and human rights abuses in their supply chains,” the letter reads. “Since then, fires, deforestation, and human rights abuses have gotten worse—destroying irreplaceable ecosystems and threatening communities across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Yet, CGF and its member companies have done little to leverage their market and supply chain influence for tangible change. Most egregiously, the CGF and its member companies have largely continued sourcing from the same suppliers responsible for deforestation and human rights abuses without repercussion or accountability—providing market access, contracts, and funds to the perpetrators of these continued violations.”

In 2009, CGF members pledged to end deforestation and human rights abuses in their supply chains by 2020, emphasizing the need for action in high risk commodities like soy, cattle, palm oil, and pulp and paper. Five years later, at the 2014 Climate Summit in New York, 60 additional companies joined in this pledge as a part of the New York Declaration on Forests. But deforestation increased last year- a disturbing trend highlighted by headline-grabbing fires in the Amazon- and early reports indicate that this year’s fire season will be even worse. Brazil just recorded its fourteenth-straight month of increased deforestation.

Ongoing and increasing deforestation poses risks to wildlife and ecosystems, exacerbates climate change, and may have disastrous public health consequences during the global COVID-19 pandemic. “The noxious haze from burning forests hospitalizes and kills hundreds of thousands of people due to respiratory illness under normal circumstances—a situation poised to be a public health catastrophe given COVID-19,” the letter notes. “These fires are preventable, and those companies that continue to provide funding and contracts to those responsible for the fires will be held publicly accountable for this unfurling environmental and human rights crisis.”

The original letter, which the CGF never responded to, asks the CGF to:

  • Reduce consumption of high-risk commodities
  • Communicate a mandatory requirement for CGF members’ suppliers to halt conversion of tropical rainforests for agricultural commodities
  • Ensure recognition and respect for local communities’ customary land rights and compliance with international standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) in commodity supply chains
  • Accelerate the enforcement of a moratorium on clearance of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas, High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests, and peatlands
  • Publish guidelines to address non-compliance in supply chains, including thresholds to determine the status of sourcing and suspension or termination of non-compliant suppliers, as well as formal grievance redress processes for human rights, land conflict, and labor violations
  • Adopt human rights and grievance redress policies protecting human rights defenders from violence and intimidation, including pledging zero tolerance for murder and violence against defenders
  • Update business practices to actively provide incentives and support to upstream suppliers to enable and ensure compliance
  • Publish annual reports detailing the progress of CGF member companies.
  • Support legislative and regulatory measures in demand-side markets to address deforestation linked to the international trade in agricultural commodities
  • Support and fund the necessary transition toward ecological and just food systems and large-scale forest conservation and restoration

Sumitomo Doubles Down on Coal, Releases More Rhetoric on Sustainability

Japanese conglomerate plans to continue work on disastrous coal plant project in Bangladesh despite climate, public health, budgetary, and environmental concerns

WASHINGTON, DC and TOKYO – Environmental organizations are criticizing Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese conglomerate, after it failed to announce any new concrete actions to address climate change or end its investments in fossil fuels. Sumitomo issued a revised climate policy (Eng. translation) just before its June 19, 2020 shareholders meeting, committing the company to “carbon neutrality” by 2050. However, Sumitomo signaled no intent to abandon its involvement in coal, including the construction of the much-maligned Matarbari Coal Plant project. Mighty Earth had called upon Sumitomo to announce a concrete coal-phase out plan by its 2020 shareholder meeting and immediately end its involvement in new coal plants.

With revenues heavily impacted by COVID-19, Sumitomo Corporation announced to investors in May that it would “execute drastic structural reforms for each of our businesses and the Sumitomo Corporation Group as a whole, including the review of our strategies on portfolio management for increasing corporate value and the enhancement of sustainability management.” The revised sustainability and climate policies (Japanese) were long on rhetoric but short on action.

“On climate change, Sumitomo continues to resist making actual change,” said Roger Smith, Japan Project Manager for Mighty Earth. “Despite crashing coal prices, low energy demand, and an international movement towards ‘green recoveries,’ Sumitomo is doubling down on fossil fuels. Sumitomo needs to exit coal and end their involvement in coal plants, including Matarbari in Bangladesh where they lead the construction.”

“Sumitomo released a climate policy in August 2019 that has been proven to be largely meaningless,” said Smith. “The policy has loopholes that allow Sumitomo to continue building new coal plants it deems ‘essential,’ including dirty projects that should be abandoned, like the Van Phong I coal plant in Vietnam. Their policy doesn’t even cover building coal plants for other companies, like the Matarbari coal plants in Bangladesh.”

This week Sumitomo amended their climate policy to include a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, which would cover its energy businesses, but left in loopholes allowing them to continue to develop coal. The actions Sumitomo takes now will determine whether or not they can reduce their emissions in time.

“Sumitomo set a date to reduce emissions that is 30 years in the future without interim goals or even a timeline to develop a plan. This is too little, too late,” said Smith. “Sumitomo needs to amend their policy to completely shut the door on new coal and phase out existing coal plants globally by 2040 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

"Bangladeshi people have as much right to clean energy and clean air as people in Japan, but Sumitomo Corporation’s climate policy loophole risks locking in decades more polluting coal power," stated Munira Chowdhury, Bangladeshi citizen and Analyst for Market Forces (an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth Australia).

"Pollution from the Matarbari Coal Plant (Phase 1) is estimated to cause up to 18,000 premature deaths during its operational years," said Hasan Mehedi, Member Secretary, Bangladesh Working Group on External Debt (BWGED). "Bangladesh’s air quality has already been ranked among the worst in the world. I think Japanese citizens would be outraged to know their tax money will end up hurting and even killing people in Bangladesh."

Environmental organizations with the international No Coal Japan coalition published a “10 Reasons Why Sumitomo’s Matarbari Coal Plant is a Terrible Idea” about the over-budget, behind schedule Matarbari project in advance of Sumitomo’s AGM, with heavy promotion on social media.

“Everyone knows the Matarbari Coal Plant is an overbudget, shortsighted boondoggle,” said Smith. “For Sumitomo to double down and be involved in building a second Matarbari Coal Plant is baffling.”

"There is already enough electricity, and renewable energy is cheaper than coal in Bangladesh,” said Yuki Tanabe, a program director for Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES). “The Government of Japan should not provide aid support for the climate-destroying Matarbari phase 2 project, and Sumitomo should not participate in any additional construction."

Sumitomo had previously told investors that the company would “continue to closely monitor international efforts and changes in the business environment, and will revise the [climate] policy as appropriate,” leading to speculation that the company would announce concrete new actions in 2020.

“We are disappointed Sumitomo has failed to show greater leadership on climate change. The COVID-19 crisis provided a perfect opportunity to dump unprofitable coal businesses and pivot to clean energy. It’s time for Sumitomo’s investors to ask when company leadership will issue their roadmap to exit coal,” concluded Smith.

Ten Reasons Why Sumitomo's Matarbari Coal Plant is a Terrible Idea

A climate disaster in the form of an over-budget, behind-schedule boondoggle

Bangladesh, already at the mercy of climate change’s rising sea levels and increasingly severe tropical cyclones, has turned to Japan for help building its energy infrastructure. But despite Bangladesh’s commitment to using 100 percent renewable energy, the Japanese government and Sumitomo Corporation are proceeding with the construction of a new coal power plant in Matarbari, next to Bangladesh’s major coastal tourist area. Unbelievably, Japan’s government is considering whether to finance yet another coal plant in Matarbari.

The first Matarbari coal plant is a disaster – it is expensive, a bad investment, and an embarrassment to Sumitomo and Japan. Here are ten reasons why a second plant should never see the light of day.

The Matarbari coal project is:

1. A mismanaged money pit
The project was already 30% over budget and at least a year behind schedule before the global pandemic hit.1 In a desperate bid to defray the project’s high costs, Japan is considering doubling-down on a bad investment and building an additional coal plant in Matarbari.2 Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is expected to decide whether to proceed with an additional plant this summer.

2. Destroying the value of the “Made in Japan” label
For decades, “Made in Japan” has long meant precision craftsmanship at reasonable prices, but that is not what Sumitomo Corporation is planning for Bangladesh. The Matarbari coal plant units 1 & 2 will use unnecessarily polluting technology that would never be allowed in Japan, polluting up to 21 times the amount of SO2 and 10 times the amount of deadly particles than an average new coal plant in Japan.3 Why is Japan dumping dirty technologies in developing countries?


Matarbari Van Phong I Japan (median emissions 25 units post 2012)
820 mg/Nm3 for SO2 360 SO2 38mg/Nm3 SO2
460 mg/Nm3 for NOx 300 NOx 54 mg/Nm3 NOx
50 mg/Nm3 for particulate matter 47 mg/Nm3 for particulate matter 5mg/Nm3 for particulate matter


3. Bad for health
The excessive pollution from the Matarbari coal plant units 1 & 2 would put nearby communities significantly over WHO health guidelines for concentrations of air pollution. Air pollution contributes to respiratory diseases and even premature death.4 The construction of additional coal plants would further pollute the air and water.

4. A dirty debt trap
The Matarbari coal plant units 1 & 2 resulted from a non-competitive bidding process, a sweetheart deal that includes up-front financing from the Japanese government and construction carried out by Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese company.5 Japan’s assistance comes at a price -- local media reported the cost of electricity from this plant is anticipated to be excessively high due to the construction delays, cost overruns and related coal infrastructure needed. If Japan doubles down on this project to try to defray costs, it would lock Bangladeshis into a high debt, high carbon and high pollution future.

5. More expensive than renewable energy alternatives
Japan could use its technological knowhow to help Bangladesh transition to a clean, renewable energy future. Energy analysts found that solar power would not only be cleaner, but also a far cheaper approach than coal for Bangladesh, with the levelized electricity cost of solar PV estimated at $91/MWh (USD) compared to an average coal cost of $110/MWh,6 and the Matarbari Units 1 & 2 reported to produce electricity at a staggering $135/MWh (or 13.5 cents/KWh).7 Bangladeshi ratepayers should not be saddled with high energy costs when their country has an abundance of solar potential.

6. A source of new climate changing emissions in a nation vulnerable to climate impacts
Matarbari Units 1 & 2 are under construction, with the Japanese government considering financing two more coal units. This is ironic, as Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially sea level rise and flooding, and has joined countries in similar circumstances as part of the Climate Vulnerable Forum.

7. Bad for workers
Bangladeshi news sources have reported that construction workers for Matarbari Units 1 & 2 went on strike after being forced to work during a national lockdown for COVID-19.8 Sumitomo Corporation should ensure that its partners and contractors respect workers’ rights and health, especially during a global pandemic. This double-standard is especially hypocritical as Sumitomo Corporation’s 4000 Japanese employees were directed to work from home starting on March 1,9 well before a state of emergency was declared for the Tokyo region on April 7, 2020. Sadly, this behavior is unsurprising, as Sumitomo has weaker protections for human rights than its Japanese trading company peers10 and only established a basic human rights policy this May.11

8. Against Japan’s climate commitments
Japan’s participation in the Paris Agreement led the Cabinet to adopt a policy in 2019 to develop infrastructure which helps contribute to global reductions of CO2 emissions. It is inconsistent for the Japanese government and Japanese companies like Sumitomo continue to build coal plants abroad. Furthermore, as Bangladesh has affordable clean energy alternatives, the proposed Matarbari coal plant does not meet the test laid out in Japan’s Fifth Strategic Energy Plan (2018) that new coal would be considered: “only for countries that have no choice but to select coal as a key source of energy from the viewpoints of energy security and economic efficiency.”12

9. Bad for local residents
Densely populated, an estimated 90,000 people lived on Matarbari and relied upon shrimp farming and salt cultivation for their livelihoods. That changed in 2013 when communities were forced into a land acquisition process for 5,000 acres to make way for the new coal plants and related coal infrastructure. A survey of residents found many were unable to take part in compensation programs, not provided with alternative employment, and left without their place of work or homes.13 Advocates note that these delays in compensation, alternate housing, and employment do not meet the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations.14

10. Bad for the tourist economy
Matarbari Island, the site of the project, lies near Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, an area beloved by tourists for its natural beauty, long sandy shorelines, wildlife sanctuaries, marine reserve, and national parks.15 Air pollution and water pollution from these new coal plants threaten the long-term viability of Cox’s Bazar as a tourist destination and damage the potential for future economic development.

The world is watching to see what Japan will do. Will Bangladeshis be locked into a dirty debt trap with high electricity prices, high air pollution and high global warming pollution? A coalition of organizations in Japan, Bangladesh and across the world are calling upon on the Japanese government to reject financing for a second coal plant at Matarbari.16 For the sake of the company’s reputation, Sumitomo Corporation should withdraw from its role managing and building the Matarbari coal plants.

Sign our petition and tell Sumitomo to be a climate leader, not part of the problem


[1] “Matarbari Power doesn’t bother to disclose Tk10,000cr cost hike.” The Business Standard. Dec. 21, 2019.

[2] “Plan to construct 2nd power plant to reduce cost of Matarbari project.” Energy Bangla.  May 31, 2019.

[3] Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Greenpeace Japan. A Deadly Double Standard — How Japan’s Financing of Highly Polluting Overseas Coal Plants Endangers Public Health. Aug. 20, 2019. p 19.

[4] A Deadly Double Standard. p. 23, 24.

[5] The tourist capital of Bangladesh is endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world. p. 24

[6] Shirashi, Kenji, Daniel Kammen, et. al. "Identifying High Priority Clean Energy Investment Opportunities for Bangladesh." International Centre for Climate Change and Development. Feb. 18, 2018. p. 2.

[7] “Plan to construct 2nd power plant to reduce cost of Matarbari project.”

[8] Samakal News link

[9] Sumitomo Corporation. “Announcement of Work from Home for All Employees” (COVID-19 countermeasure) News Release.

[10] Human Rights Now. “Survey Results and Report Regarding 7 General Trading Companies’ Human Rights Policy and Implementation Status.” Feb. 2020.
English overview:


[12] Fifth Strategic Energy Plan (Provisional Translation), July 2018. p. 72.

[13] The tourist capital of Bangladesh is endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world. p. 23-26

[14] Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society (JACSES). “Factsheet: Matarbari Ultra Super Critical Coal-Fired Power Project (Bangladesh).” Aug. 2019.

[15] Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), Waterkeepers Bangladesh. The tourist capital of Bangladesh is endangered by plans to build the largest coal power hub in the world. Nov. 2019. p. 2, 13.

[16] “Demand letter to the PM Abe: Don’t finance the phase 2 of Matarbari coal-fired power project in Bangladesh” No Coal Japan website. Apr. 6, 2020.

Ending Gag Lawsuits in Europe: Protecting Democracy and Fundamental Rights

Mighty Earth has joined 119 other NGOs to publish a policy paper advising the EU to put an end to gag lawsuits. Gag lawsuits, also known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are lawsuits filed by powerful interests (like corporations or high-profile individuals) to harass and drain substantial resources from smaller watchdog organizations, activists, journalists, trade unions, activists, media organizations, and those who represent the public interest. SLAPPs are a threat to democracy, fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, and the right to to assembly, for those who speak out in the public interest. It is vital that the scope of anti-SLAPP measures include everybody affected by SLAPPs, including journalists, activists, trade unionists, academics, digital security researchers, human rights defenders, media and civil society organizations, among others. 

 Recent examples of SLAPPs include Paypal libel against SumOfUs for a peaceful protest outside its headquarters in Germany, or Bollore Group’s 20 lawsuits against NGOs Sherpa and ReAct in France to stop them reporting human rights abuses in Cameroon. When Maltese journalist Daphne Caurana Galizia was brutally killed she had 47 SLAPPs pending against her. Greenpeace offices and campaigners have been sued by many companies across the world, including by Resolute Forest Products. 

Read the policy paper here. 

Mighty Earth Stands for Racial Justice

A joint statement from all of us at Mighty Earth:

The tragic killing of George Floyd has left us saddened, angry, and hurt. We mourn for George Floyd as we have for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others.

Racism is endemic in the U.S., and we must speak the truth about it. We have seen it in our work, where so many of the issues we care about – air and water pollution, climate change, destruction of native ecosystems, and the global pandemic – disproportionately harm or target black communities, local communities, Indigenous peoples, and other communities of color. And we have seen it in our movement, because no organization, system, or campaign in this country is immune to the destructive influences of white supremacy and systemic racism.

Our fight against these ecological crises is therefore inextricable from our struggle against the systems of oppression. There is no climate justice without racial justice.

We at Mighty Earth condemn racism in all its forms and resolve to find new ways to fight it. We reject police brutality and defend the indispensable right to protest, so that individual and collective voices can fight for – and win – justice and equality.

We pledge to continue the hard but essential work to improve ourselves and our own behaviors, engage deeply with the communities in which we live and work while prioritizing the voices of those most affected, and challenge and heal the violence of structural oppression. 

We stand in solidarity with those targeted by police violence and the protesters demanding justice. Black Lives Matter.

Supermarkets Urged to Actually Stop Buying from Companies Destroying the Amazon

Ahold Delhaize, Costco, others urged to immediately adopt robust sourcing policies to build on success of recent demands that Brazil stop allowing bulldozing of Amazon, killing of Indigenous people

WASHINGTON, DC – In new letters released publicly today, Mighty Earth is calling on 21 of the largest supermarkets and retailers in Europe and the United States to back up their stated commitments to environmental standards with new policies that would immediately cancel contracts with deforesting suppliers including Cargill, Bunge, and JBS.

"Forests around the world are being intentionally torched. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is higher than it’s been in a decade, and anti-environment fanatics are determined to use the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to wreak further havoc," said Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. "Our planet is in crisis. The time for polite requests to stop deforestation has passed. It’s time to cut contracts with those responsible. Customers are demanding sustainable options, and simply do not want their local grocery store stocking its shelves with products of destroyed rainforests and ethnic cleansing."

The letters, sent to the CEOs of Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons Companies, Amazon, Aramark, Compass Group, Costco, Edeka Group, Kroger, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Metro Group, Morisons, Rewe, Sainsbury's, Sysco, Target, Tesco, Trader Joe's, Walmart, Wegmans, and Whole Foods, note that the recent actions of British supermarkets have "demonstrated the power that the private sector can deploy to protect the environment and human rights." The letter is also being sent to consumer goods companies like Unilever and Mars .

An open letter to the Brazilian Congress warned that a proposed law to open up the Amazon rainforest to further destruction would "put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future," citing the Amazon’s wildlife and its crucial role in the climate and water cycles. Upon receiving the letter, the Brazilian government almost immediately delayed voting on the bill. Many of the companies that Mighty Earth has reached out to were signatories on the British supermarket letter.

"These companies have the market leverage and they have demonstrated the capacity and willingness to use it. We have seen market pressure work to prevent environmental destruction – and remarkably quickly," said Hurowitz. "But food brans now must turn their attention to dealing with suppliers that are driving this deforestation. If these companies can move the Brazilian government, they can move the companies that rely on supplier contracts to stay in business."

The letters outline the ongoing crisis, saying that "deforestation in South America has surged over the last year, in large measure because a small number of critical companies that supply meat and animal feed continue to drive massive deforestation and human rights abuses. We are therefore calling on you to adopt a no-deforestation policy with a clear non-compliance protocol that results in suspended or cancelled contracts with violating suppliers such as Cargill, Bunge, and JBS."

Investigations into the destruction in South America have repeatedly uncovered these three companies at the root of the problem. Chain Reaction Research recently released an investor report that documented that the number of fires identified in the vicinity of Bunge and Cargill facilities was higher than all the other main soy traders combined.  Similarly, in cattle, JBS alone had 317,096 fires inside its buying area, triple what the next largest fire-linked company had. The findings echoed Mighty Earth’s mapping analysis from 2019.

In Bolivia, where Cargill is the leading international soy trader, the company has been tied to repeated deforestation, with similar results for Cargill and Bunge in Argentina and Paraguay, respectively. These companies have also been linked to irresponsible labor practices, endangering workers during the coronavirus crisis with unsafe working conditions even as their practices around the globe make the next pandemic more likely.


High resolution photos and videos are available for use – please contact [email protected] for access.

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Stop Destroying the Planet & Shop Responsibly

"As a concerned consumer, I can only do so much when making my purchasing decisions. Ultimately, the responsibility is Stop&Shop’s, so I hope the CEO can make the decision to cut ties with Cargill in an effort to create a more sustainable future for our planet."

- Victoria Deever | Stop & Shop Customer, MA

The meat industry is the leading cause of water pollution and deforestation. A small handful of companies control the meat industry and are responsible for its impact.

In Massachusetts, customers and other community members have recently joined Mighty Earth’s call for Stop & Shop to implement environmental standards for their meat and to cut ties with Cargill, a company responsible for water pollution across the U.S. and deforestation across Latin America.

Community members are asking Stop & Shop to ensure that shelves are stocked with products from responsible suppliers that are taking care of our environment.

This spring community members took the following actions: 

Grocery Stores Threatening Brazil Boycott Must Go Further to Truly Protect Forests

Leading international supermarkets recently wrote a letter to Brazilian lawmakers, threatening a boycott over a proposed law that would open up the Amazon to deforestation and exploitation. In response to the letter, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"It's great to see supermarkets like Stop & Shop owner Ahold Delhaize stepping up and using their leverage as major buyers from Brazil to stop this terrible bill. These companies seem to understand that ongoing complicity in President Jair Bolsonaro's ecocide poses a severe danger to their reputations and brands. They are right. Nobody wants to go to their local grocery store and buy chicken or steak connected to the destruction of an ancient rainforest or the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

“But these companies shouldn’t need the threat of this legislation to act. Day in and day out, Stop & Shop is keeping suppliers like Cargill and JBS – the companies largely responsible for the destruction of the Amazon and other ecosystems – in business by buying their meat and feed.

"Until grocery stores start canceling contracts with the suppliers driving the burning of the Amazon, they remain complicit in the destruction. Their customers and the world expect these brands not just to call for action, but to act."

Indigenous Papuan Man Killed by Brutal Beating at Korindo Palm Oil Plantation

Mighty Earth recently received news of the tragic death of an Indigenous Papuan man and former palm oil plantation employee named Marius Betera, who was brutally beaten at the hands of the local police authorities and died hours later.

The news came from Mighty Earth’s civil society partners in Papua, Indonesia. SKP KAMe Meruake, a Catholic humanitarian organization based in the area where this incident occurred, issued a statement in response to the killing, which shares detailed testimony from witnesses concerning the circumstances of Betera's death. The statement also notes that large companies like Korindo frequently use violence to repress community concerns, with local police commonly acting as company security. The statement further calls for immediate action to bring the perpetrator to justice and for the local government to provide strict sanctions on companies that violate laws and regulations, ranging from the revocation of licenses to the restoration of Indigenous rights.

According to eyewitness accounts, Betera was attacked at the office of a palm oil plantation company owned by Korindo Group, a notorious Korean-Indonesian logging and palm oil conglomerate with a long record of deforestation and exploitation of indigenous communities in Indonesia. Betera had reportedly come to the company's office to lodge a complaint after the recent destruction of his banana plantation, which he suspected had been cleared by a Korindo company excavator the previous day.

In response to the news, Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director, Deborah Lapidus, released the following statement:

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Marius Betera, who are now suffering as result of this appalling act of violence. There must be swift action by local law enforcement and Korindo to ensure justice is provided to Betera’s family and his community.

“But the response can't stop there. Our investigations into Korindo's operations have exposed the company’s record of wanton disregard for and exploitation of Papuan rainforests and the indigenous people who call those forests home. Yet Korindo has largely dismissed these concerns, or, when it could no longer avoid accountability, merely paid lip service to agreements to improve its practices. One such agreement, as stated on the Korindo website, is to ‘resolve grievances promptly, responsibly, responsively, and proactively;’ yet Betera’s grievance resulted in his death.

“The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which certifies its member companies’ adherence to environmental and human rights standards, should also immediately open its own investigation into this alleged act of violence and suppression, especially in light of Korindo’s earlier agreement with FSC to ‘comply with the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and remediate its negative impacts on communities.’”

A two-year investigation of Korindo's deforestation practices by the FSC, prompted by a complaint filed by Mighty Earth, found that, among other violations, Korindo had violated traditional and human rights in Papua and North Maluku, Indonesia. The investigative reports detailed how Korindo had repeatedly manipulated, intimidated, and cheated communities, impacting their health, livelihoods, and rights.

Under pressure from Korindo, the FSC stopped short of sanctioning or withdrawing its certification of Korindo. Instead, in its agreement with the FSC, Korindo committed to “Undertake remedy and improvement processes to assure social measures have been and will be fair and proportionate and subject to FPIC of affected communities in Papua and North Maluku.” To date, the FSC has not provided any updates on the stakeholder process it promised to initiate that will determine Korindo’s liabilities to local communities and its deforestation legacy. The FSC further stated that “FSC will closely monitor Korindo’s progress of its implementation of the measures and conditions stipulated by FSC. Failure to satisfactorily meet these conditions would be basis for FSC to end its association with the company.”

Photo: A Korindo-owned plantation in Papua, © Mighty Earth 2016

Unilever, Mars, Hershey, and World's Largest Palm Oil Traders Suspend Rogue Supplier Over Its Relentless Deforestation

Notorious tycoon-owned timber and palm oil conglomerate Samling scrambles to adopt sham “No Deforestation” policy to keep customers while continuing to destroy rainforests

Some of the world’s largest consumer goods brands and their palm oil suppliers have suspended one of Malaysia’s most notorious timber and palm oil conglomerates, Samling Group, due to its relentless deforestation. To date, major consumer brands including Unilever, Mars, and Hershey – as well as palm oil traders including ADM, Bunge, Cargill, IOI, KLK, Louis Dreyfus, Sime Darby, Fuji Oil, and Wilmar (the world’s largest palm oil trader) – have suspended Samling from their supply chains.

As part of its Rapid Response deforestation monitoring program, Mighty Earth has documented at least 886 hectares of deforestation during the period September 2018-March 2020 in Samling’s timber plantation concessions in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Samling’s palm oil operations cover around 40,000 hectares in Malaysia and Indonesia, whereas its industrial tree plantation licences in Sarawak cover over 200,000 hectares, an area over five times the size of Singapore.

“Unilever, Mars, Hershey and others have acted swiftly by instructing their palm oil suppliers to impose a procurement suspension of Samling for its global supply chain. Samling has responded to these suspensions with a desperate bid to keep its remaining palm oil customers – not by halting all its forest clearance, but by holding up a shiny policy with one hand to distract its customers while continuing deforestation with the other hand,” said Mighty Earth Senior Campaign Director Deborah Lapidus.

A Samling-owned palm oil company – Glenealy Plantations – has declared a moratorium on further oil palm development and issued a no-deforestation policy. However, the new policy fails to stop Samling’s largest source of ongoing deforestation – its continued expansion of monoculture timber plantations. In addition, Glenealy’s oil palm land bank is mostly developed already, making the impact of the new policy minimal.

Palm oil trader Sime Darby informed Mighty Earth that: “We would like to confirm that we have notified Samling that we will no longer be sourcing from them due to concerns raised by our key customers. Central to these concerns is the adoption of NDPE [No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation] commitments across the whole Samling Group, and not just for Glenealy Plantations.” Fuji Oil, another palm oil trader, has also suspended Samling on the basis that its continued deforestation is not aligned with Fuji Oil’s Palm Oil Sourcing Policy and group-level association.

Publicly available mill sourcing lists and other data indicate that companies including BLD Plantations (KTS Group), Sarawak Oil Palms (Shin Yang Group), Nestlé, Mondelez, and PepsiCo have yet to take action to exclude Samling from their supply chains, despite having No Deforestation policies.

“In our outreach to Samling’s palm oil buyers, many stated that they didn’t need to take action because Samling’s deforestation was for timber, not palm oil. But a rainforest being destroyed for timber plantations is just as bad as a rainforest being destroyed for palm oil, and the profits are going to the same shareholders of the Samling group. There is no excuse for a company with a No Deforestation policy to be buying from rogue deforesters like Samling, plain and simple,” said Lapidus.

Founded by Datuk Yaw Teck Seng over 50 years ago, the Samling Group has a long track record of forest destruction and violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. In 2017, a coalition of Burmese civil society groups published a report detailing land grabbing, indigenous rights violations, and environmental problems in Samling’s palm oil operations in Myanmar. Findings included Samling’s role in the pollution of local water sources and clear-cutting of forests inside a proposed national park that is home to endangered tigers. A February 2020 article by The Sarawak Report, a NGO run by a British investigative journalist, alleges that a Samling-related company in Papua New Guinea has failed to “pay four indigenous groups nearly USD$100 million in compensation for large-scale illegal logging, environmental destruction and serious human rights abuses related to the Kiunga – Aiambak road project in Papua New Guinea.” This finding is based on a 2011 Papua New Guinea court judgment. A 2002 Greenpeace International report on this ‘road project’ (‘Partners in Crime’) described it as an unlawful, destructive ploy to open up new areas of rainforest for logging.