Rainforest Alliance has agreed to conduct an audit of Asia Pulp & Paper’s progress in implementing the zero deforestation policy the forestry giant signed last year.
The deal, announced Thursday in Jakarta, could help boost the credibility of APP’s policy, which while heralded as a breakthrough by several environmental groups, is still viewed with skepticism by some prominent critics, who remember past broken commitments from the paper producer. Rainforest Alliance knows the controversy well: in 2007 it terminated its relationship with APP after the company failed to protect high conservation value forests in Sumatra.
Unsurprisingly, the decision to re-engage with APP wasn’t made lightly, according to Rainforest Alliance’s Vice President of Forestry, Richard Donovan.
“There were three factors that influenced our decision,” Donovan told mongabay.com. “First, there is strong commitment at the highest levels of the organization, which signals that APP is serious this time around.”
“Second, we have great respect for both NGO’s — The Forest Trust and Greenpeace — that are working with APP on its policy. And third, we know that deforestation and community rights are important to a number of APP’s key buyers. If APP doesn’t address these issues, it will face intensifying market pressure going forward.”
Under the terms of the new pact, Rainforest Alliance will evaluate APP’s progress in meeting four commitments in its forest conservation policy including protecting high conservation value areas and high carbon stock forests, managing peatlands to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and obtaining free, prior informed consent from local communities before developing new plantations. It will also measure APP’s progress in adhering to any other public statements it has made.
The process will involve developing a set of “key performance indicators” after consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including buyers, government, NGO’s, and communities. These indicators will be the basis of a comprehensive audit that will be conducted across dozens of concessions held by APP subsidiaries and suppliers. Rainforest Alliance’s final report will be made public once the audit is complete for APP’s holdings in Indonesia. A separate audit will be conducted subsequently for APP’s holdings in China.
Rainforest in West Kalimantan, where APP sources some of its fiber
With the agreement, the Rainforest Alliance becomes the third major international NGO to engage with APP on its forest conservation policy, which emerged after bruising campaigns by environmental groups. Greenpeace, once APP’s fiercest critic, has advised APP on the development of the policy, including what kind of environmental standards are increasingly expected by major buyers, while The Forest Trust (TFT) is focused on implementation. Rainforest Alliance, which has decades of experience as a certifier for commodity production, will function as a third party auditor. The task will be a daunting one, given the sprawling nature of APP’s business and the complexities around concession agreements and land tenure in Indonesia.
“This is a challenging assignment,” said Donovan in a statement. “Rainforest Alliance believes that independent and transparent third party oversight is an essential ingredient for accurate reporting on progress. As we said when the FCP was announced, the delivery on the ground is what matters and the Rainforest Alliance is putting together a team and process that will independently assess and publicly report on the progress to date.”
Greenpeace welcomed Rainforest Alliance’s involvement.
“Rainforest Alliance comes into this as an independent, third party auditor that will deliver an objective assessment of where APP stands in terms of its commitments,” Greenpeace campaigner Phil Aikman told mongabay.com. “We’ll see what they are and aren’t delivering. It also shows that APP is serious about change and greater openness.”
Rainforest in Sumatra.
APP said the Rainforest Alliance’s audit will provide the independent verification needed to demonstrate it is committed to greener practices.
“We are very happy that an organization as credible as the Rainforest Alliance has agreed to undertake this hugely important work,” said Aida Greenbury, APP managing director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement, in a statement. “Since we introduced the FCP, we have made considerable progress. Our moratorium continues to be effective, our HCV assessments are almost complete and we have carried out a great deal of work on mapping social conflicts in our supply chain.”
Since APP launched the forest conservation policy nearly a year ago, three deforestation incidents have surfaced, including two identified by local NGO’s. In each case, APP was quick to send an investigative team, which confirmed the clearing and looked into the circumstances under which is occurred. Only one of the incidents involved an outright policy breach: in South Sumatra three companies — PT. Bumi Andalas Permai (BAP), PT. Sebangun Bumi Andalas (SBA), and PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) — cleared 69 hectares of high carbon stock forest in a “No Go” zone. APP called the violation “unacceptable”. The other two cases were more complicated. In one, 70 hectares of forest cut down under a local community agreement that pre-dated the moratorium. In the other, forest was cleared in an area where there were overlapping concessions — both an APP pulpwood supplier and an unaffiliated palm oil company had permits for the same area of land. These sorts of issues — which are common in Indonesia’s forestry sector — are an added hurdle for APP and its partners in implementing the forest conservation policy, a point acknowledged by APP’s Greenbury.
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing,” she said. “There have been a number of challenges and we have learned from these and used them to improve procedures associated with the FCP. By conducting this evaluation, we hope that stakeholders will more fully understand the challenges associated with tackling deforestation in Indonesia.”
The plantation sector has been the largest driver of deforestation and peatlands conversion on the island of Sumatra over the past twenty years. Due to the high carbon content of these ecosystems, oil palm and pulp and paper plantations have been responsible for millions of tons of carbon emissions, while also further endangering charismatic species like tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans. Therefore conservation commitments from these companies are particularly important for reducing Indonesia’s high rate of deforestation associated greenhouse gas emissions. Other companies that have signed pledges similar to APP’s include palm oil giants Golden-Agri Resources and Wilmar. Earlier this week, APRIL, APP’s biggest competitor, announced a forest conservation policy, which environmentalists say falls far short of APP’s policy.