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APP reports accidental breach of deforestation moratorium

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has reported an accidental breach of its moratorium on deforestation.

In May, Indonesian environmental coalition Eyes on the Forest alleged that the forest products giant had violated its deforestation moratorium when an area of forest was cleared on a concession belonging to APP supplier PT. Riau Indo Agropalma (RIA) on the island of Sumatra. Eyes on the Forest documented the clearing with geo-referenced photographs and issued a report.

In response, APP and The Forest Trust (TFT) dispatched a team to investigate the matter. They found that 70 hectares of forest was indeed cleared “in breach of our moratorium.” But the story is more complex than APP returning to its old forest management practices — the 70 hectares were part of a community development program mandated under Indonesian law.

Nonetheless, APP says the decision to allow the clearing to proceed was a mistake.

“This approval was granted because RIA had, two years previously, entered into an agreement with a local community to develop the area as part of a livelihood support program – an obligation of concession owners,” wrote APP’s Aida Greenbury in a letter introducing the results from the investigation. “The Forest Conservation Policy Implementation Team concluded that the agreement with the community should be honored.”

“This approval should not have been given because all natural forest is covered by APP’s No Deforestation policy – our commitment to stop natural forest clearance is clear and absolute. The correct response should have been to highlight the case to APP and TFT senior management so that steps could be taken to meet, and consult with the community on alternative development possibilities.”

APP said it is now reviewing its internal sign-off procedures to led to the decision and looking into whether there have been other similar cases since its moratorium went into effect in February 2013.

“We remain steadfastly committed to our Forest Conservation Policy and all of its commitments,” wrote Greenbury.

—Three excavators were caught red handed in this photo, felling trees of natural
forest in PT. Riau Indo Agropalma (RIA) concession. Photo taken by Eyes on the Forest at 0°4’38.93″N, 102°57’4.18″E on 8 April 2013.

APP’s Forest Conservation Policy bans it from using timber sourced from forest areas that have more than 35 tons of carbon — effectively most vegetation types above secondary scrub. The policy aims to boost the firm’s international standing, which has long-suffered due to APP’s environmental record, which included more than two decades of clearing wildlife-rich rainforests and peatlands as well as a number of cases of social conflict.

Pressure from green groups was critical in compelling APP to adopt the policy. Colorful campaigns by Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network, WWF, Eyes on the Forest, and a raft of local NGOs substantially tarnished APP’s brand and led to large-scale customer defections. Environmental groups have since turned their attention to APRIL, which together with APP controls more than 80 percent of Indonesia’s pulp and paper market, but has yet to ban conversion of rainforests and peatlands.

Still, both companies have in recent weeks been linked to fires that are driving the haze that is polluting the skies above Singapore and Malaysia. Both APP and APRIL say they maintain “no burn” policies and have blamed non-company actors — specifically slash-and-burn farmers — for the fires. Investigations into the sources of the fires are ongoing.

fate of forest lands deforested between 2007 and 2012 in Riau province in Sumatra
Fate of deforested lands in Riau, 2007-2012

The establishment of timber and oil palm plantations is the primary driver of deforestation in Sumatra over the past thirty years. The clearing and drainage of large areas of peat forest for these plantations has greatly increased the risk of fire across Riau, Jambi, and South Sumatra — provinces where the bulk of hotspots are now concentrated.

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