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Paper giant RAPP bows to peat-protection order after Indonesia court defeat

Fire set for peatland clearing in Riau Province, Indonesia in July 2015. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Fire set for peatland clearing in Riau Province, Indonesia in July 2015. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

  • A court has invalidated a bid by Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP) to overturn a government order obliging it to conserve peatlands that fall within its concessions.
  • The ruling means the company will have to submit revised work plans to the government, in which peat areas that it had previously earmarked for development would be conserved and rewetted to prevent fires.
  • The government has also mulled the possibility of auditing RAPP and parent company APRIL to get a clearer picture of their operations on the ground.

JAKARTA — A court in Indonesia has ordered a subsidiary of the country’s second-biggest pulp and paper company to comply with a government order aimed at preventing land fires and haze.

The Jakarta State Administrative Court ruled that the legal basis for PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper’s (RAPP) to seek to overturn the order from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to conserve the peat forests within its existing concessions was invalid.

The ruling, handed down on Thursday, means the company’s work plans — the blueprint for which parts of its concessions it intends to operate in over the coming years — are void and must be revised pursuant to the government order.

“The newly revised work plans will significantly impact our business activities,” RAPP said in a statement. “Nevertheless, we will comply with the directives from the ministry.”

The company said it would inform its operations teams about the ruling and “ensure the well-being of employees and contractors who are affected by today’s court decision.”

RAPP is a subsidiary of paper giant APRIL, itself a part of the Royal Golden Eagle conglomerate, owned by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto.

Its work plans were invalidated in the wake of widespread land fires in 2015 and the resultant massive haze, stoked in large part by the drainage of Indonesia’s vast peat swamps — rendering them highly combustible — by companies like APRIL and its main competitor, Asia Pulp & Paper, as well as palm oil firms.

Smoke from the fires sickened half a million Indonesians, according to government estimates, and drifted into neighboring countries. At the height of the disaster, the daily emissions of carbon dioxide as a result of the burning exceeded those from all U.S. economic activity.

In response, the government issued a decree in 2016 that stipulates the conservation of at least 30 percent of all peat domes — landscapes where the peat is so deep that the center is topographically higher than the edges. The regulation also mandates the conservation of areas where the peat is deeper than 3 meters (9.8 feet) and which contain high biodiversity. RAPP’s own plantations overlap with one of Indonesia’s deepest peat-swamp landscapes, the Kampar Peninsula in Sumatra.

The environment ministry annulled RAPP’s work plans earlier this year and ordered the firm to submit a new one so that areas that the government had rezoned for conservation under the new rules would be taken out of contention for development by the company and rewetted to prevent fires.

But last month, RAPP filed a legal challenge against the decision, leading the ministry to accuse the company of shirking its obligation to comply with the 2016 decree.

Bambang Hendroyono, the environment ministry’s secretary-general, said Thursday’s verdict reinforced RAPP’s obligation to protect peat domes within its concessions in eastern Sumatra.

“So RAPP is obligated to soon submit the revision of its work plans for peat protection,” he said after the ruling was handed down.

Separately, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya said the government might audit RAPP and APRIL in the next few months in a bid to get a clearer picture of their businesses and operations on the ground.


Banner image: Fire set for peatland clearing in Riau Province, Indonesia in July 2015. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

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