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APP establishes deforestation moratorium in Jambi; greens remain skeptical

Industrial acacia plantation for pulp production.

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has established a moratorium on natural forest conversion in Jambi province on the island of Sumatra, according to a report issued by the Indonesian forestry giant.

The moratorium covers 55,584 hectares of forest land, including concessions owned outright by APP and two independent pulpwood suppliers. APP says it has now conducted a preliminary high conservation value forest (HCVF) assessment across 80 percent of its concessions in Jambi and Riau and 50 percent of its concessions in West Kalimantan. APP and its affiliates own about 1 million hectares of forest concessions, while its suppliers control 1.5 million ha.

The “sustainability roadmap” comes as part of APP’s effort to phase out sourcing of fiber from natural forests by 2015. The target applies only to APP-owned forest concessions, although suppliers are expected to conduct HCVF assessments on their holdings by the same year.

The initiatives are a response to criticism from environmental groups over APP’s forest management practices. According to groups ranging from WWF to the Rainforest Alliance to Greenpeace, APP has converted vast areas of tropical forest and peatlands for acacia and eucalyptus plantations to feed its pulp mills. WWF estimates that APP and its suppliers have destroyed 2 million hectares of forest in Sumatra since 1984, including critical habitat for endangered tigers, elephants, orangutans, and rhinos. Conversion has also driven substantial greenhouse gas emissions. By one estimate, carbon dioxide emissions from the Indonesian pulp and paper industry amount to 600 million tons per year, or more than the total emissions from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Complaints from environmental groups have hit APP hard. Greenpeace’s campaign has been particularly damaging, costing APP dozens of major customers — including Xerox, Kraft, National Geographic, Mattel, and Carrefour, among others — in recent years. WWF has also issued a series of reports showing that APP has failed to abide by three past targets for phasing out natural forest logging and that the paper giant’s “conservation initiatives” are little more that compliance with Indonesian law. One of these prior commitments was to conserve HCVF as specified under the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program. APP breached that pledge in 2005 and 2006, leading Rainforest Alliance to terminate the agreement with APP in 2007. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) subsequently ended its relationship with APP.

Given this checkered record, Greenpeace greeted APP’s newest announcement with skepticism.

“APP’s announcement to suspend all natural forest clearance in Jambi is a step forward,” a Greenpeace spokesperson told is email. “However, if APP is to prove it is genuinely committed to ending its involvement in deforestation this same commitment must be immediately applied to all areas of natural forest in Indonesia from where it’s sourcing.”

Greenpeace also expressed concern about a new pulp mill allegedly linked to APP’s parent, the Sinar Mas group of companies.

“The news that APP plans to develop a massive new pulp mill in South Sumatra raises serious questions about recent claims that the company plans to stop using timber from natural forest clearance.”

APP has denied any involvement with the new pulp mill and Sinar Mas has not confirmed media reports that it is linked to the project. But analysis by Christopher Barr, a forestry consultant, raises doubts that there are enough plantations to meet the new mill’s demand. Any shortfall would likely come from natural forests. (APP’s 2015 target allows for 5 percent of its fiber to come from natural forests).

“Typically investments in pulp capacity occur well ahead of plantations,” Barr said.

Past and forecast demand and production targets for Indonesia's pulp and paper industry.
Past and forecast demand and production targets for Indonesia’s pulp and paper industry.

Indonesia is gearing up for substantial pulp and paper expansion by 2020. Although Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2011 established a moratorium on new forestry concessions across 14.5 million hectares of peatlands and primary forest through 2013, the Ministry of Forestry has since expanded the area zoned for industrial timber plantations from 9.4 million ha to 21.2 million hectares. The targets make it difficult to believe that Indonesia will be able to meet its emissions reduction target for 2020, according to Barr.

“I have a hard time envisioning this capacity expansion while reducing emissions,” said Barr.

But APP maintains it “is committed to an all-plantation business model”. The question from environmentalists remains whether these plantations will be established by converting native forests.

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