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Jumping the gun? Confusion over APP deforestation report

On Thursday AFP reported that green groups have accused Indonesian forestry giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) of breaking its commitment to stop clearing natural forests and peatlands. But that’s not the whole story.

What the coalition of environmental groups in Indonesian Borneo actually reported was clearing by two companies that supply APP with fiber, not deforestation by APP-owned companies. Under its new forest conservation policy, APP says it will terminate contracts with suppliers who continue to clear. Therefore APP is not in breach of the commitment unless it continues to source fiber from the companies in question provided they are determined to be clearing natural forest or peatlands.

APP says it is currently investigating the situation. Initial reports suggest that in one of the concessions — owned by Daya Tani Kalbar — there is an overlapping license with a palm oil company, which may be clearing the peat forest for an oil palm plantation unrelated to APP. The other concession — owned by Asia Tani Persada — includes an overlapping mining license, although the mining area appears to be distant from where the forest clearing was documented. Overlapping licenses are a common problem in Indonesia, making it difficult to determine who has what rights to land. As a result, there may be several claimants — including companies, individuals, and communities — for any given tract of forest.

However it isn’t surprising that environmentalists are skeptical of APP’s forest policy: the logging giant has broken three previous commitments to end logging in natural forest areas (2004, 2007, and 2009). This time though, APP’s policy is ambitious enough that one of its most vocal critics and agitators, Greenpeace, has suspended its highly-damaging campaign against the paper producer. That campaign cost APP tens of millions of dollars in lost business since 2009.

Courtesy of the Kalimantan Forest Monitoring Volunteers (RPHK)

Greenpeace, which is now involved with monitoring APP’s compliance with the agreement, still hasn’t blessed APP as a paper supplier. The activist group is taking a wait-and-see approach to gauge whether APP will stick to the policy. Until then, Greenpeace is advising paper buyers to avoid the brand.

Greenpeace’s position is being echoed by other groups that have targeted APP, including WALHI, one of the Indonesian NGOs that is part of the monitoring effort in West Kalimantan.

“We call on global buyers of pulp and paper to remain skeptical and await independent verification by independent NGOs of the field implementation of APP’s FCP before making any new purchasing decision,” Anton P. Wijaya, Director Executive of WALHI’s West Kalimantan chapter, said in a statement. “Continued forest clearance and peat canal development by APP suppliers without any high conservation value, high carbon stock and peat study sends a bad signal about the implementation of APP’s commitment to conservation that has been broadcasted around the world.”

Most of APP’s logging and forest conversion has occurred on the island of Sumatra. Environmentalists say APP’s paper production laid waste to more than 2 million hectares of forest and peatlands since the mid-1980s, increasing risks to endangered species like the Sumatran rhino and tiger.

APP’s new forest conservation policy is being implemented by The Forest Trust, an international NGO that in 2011 brokered a precedent-setting deal with Golden-Agri Resources (GAR), Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer, to end deforestation for new plantations. GAR is owned by the same parent conglomerate — Sinar Mas Group — as APP.

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