In recent years, due to lower productivity and value of rubber, small-holders are shifting from natural
rubber towards more profitable and productive palm-oil (Indonesia Investments, 2018; Grow Asia,
2020). This has led to an emerging transition to larger, private, monoculture plantations of rubber in
Indonesia (Warren-Thomas et al., 2015). In the future this may lead to greater concerns surrounding
nutrient loading, habitat loss and invasive species (Potapov et al., 2021). Interestingly, since primary
forest is now scarce in Sumatra, conserving rubber agro-forests on small-holdings is now considered
one of the few options for successfully supporting biodiversity and reducing emissions on the island
(Villamor et al., 2014). However, current increases in the profitability of other land-uses, such as palm
oil are pushing farmers away from this land management technique (Ibid, 2014).
However, it should be noted that the last year saw the lowest deforestation rates since records begun
(-75%) in Indonesia (Jong, 2021). This has followed changes to moratoriums on clearing primary forest
and licencing for forest clearance (notably related to palm oil production), although other factors
must be accounted for such as wetter season, decline in palm-oil prices and the Covid-19 pandemic
(ibid, 2021). Resurgence in these levels following this year should be monitored to see whether the
governments new policies are having a positive impact on deforestation in the country (ibid, 2021).
Before recent years, despite commitments from the government of Indonesia and the international
community, deforestation rates have not stabilised or decreased in the years since REDD+’s
introduction in 2007 (Enrici & Hubacek, 2018). Additionally, despite some major company’s efforts to
implement sustainable rubber within Indonesia (See Michelin Tyres x WWF; Otten et al., 2020) the
impact has been limited and it is clear that currently it is ineffective and unsustainable for the
communities (Otten et al., 2020).
The current political and development situation of Indonesia does increase the risk of this material:
“Under Indonesia’s NDC, the government allows up to 325,000 hectares (803,000 acres) of
deforestation per year to reach its emissions reduction goal while leaving room for economic
development. That means that by the 2030 deadline for the Paris Agreement, Indonesia could
potentially clear 3.25 million hectares (8 million acres) of rainforest, an area larger than Belgium, and
still call it a success. A 2018 report by the NGO Rainforest Foundation Norway shows this won’t be
enough to cap the average global temperature increase at 1.5° Celsius as mandated under the Paris
Agreement.” - Jong, 2021
What is needed is drastic legal measures to be taken for this industry to change but also be
economically sufficient for the people who are part of it.
Currently there is limited consistent messaging around the carbon sequestration potential of rubber
trees, with different systems and regions having different potentials (Li et al., 2008;
Annamalainathan et al., 2011; Yiping et al., 2014; Villamor et al., 2014; Blagodatsky et al., 2016;
Brahma et al., 2017). However, it is understood that despite the carbon sequestration of rubber trees
they cannot make up the emissions or biodiversity losses encountered from converting intact forest
and even degraded forests (Warren-thomas et al., 2018).
In relation to other forms of pollution, it is likely that the impact in the region is low if the traditional
practices are being carried out on the rubber plantations as well as the continued jungle forest
techniques for production in the main producing regions of Indonesia. However, as pressure mounts to
increase production of rubber and access to more modern techniques spreads, the threat from other
pollution is likely to increase (e.g., soil erosion due to lower density leaf crown, increased machinery
use, and increased chemical use). Another factor that should be considered is the chemicals needed to
process latex into rubber e.g. ammonia and formic acid in waste waters, which paired with the low
EPI 2020 ranking (68/134) of Indonesia’s wastewater management may pose an environmental
threat. However, there is limited information on this impact.
It should also be considered that the sole does consist of other, smaller amounts of materials that are
currently less understood and known including, 10% unspecified fillers (likely to be plastic based), 3%
additives (likely to be an anti-UV agent to prevent yellowing) and 1% pigments (for colouring). The
likely presence of plastic within this material does increase concern for energy use and plastic
pollution however, it should be recognised that aspect climate projects have tried as far as possible to
eliminate plastic from their product.