I’m usually concerned about speaking too soon, but it feels to me like the risk of Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) now reneging on its zero deforestation pledge is diminishing with every passing month. Breaking such a highly publicised promise to its customers would be commercial suicide.
It's a good time for us to issue a progress report, both to highlight what APP has done well and where there is still room for improvement. A copy of the report was provided to APP.
It has been several months since APP, Indonesia's largest pulp and paper company, called a halt to deforestation to feed its pulp mills. In February 2013, it released its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) that promised to protect all the remaining rainforests and areas of peatlands in its suppliers' concessions.
As is well known, APP had made and broken similar pledges before. However, this time the context was different. Crucially, key people in its senior management team were genuinely committed to making this work. We therefore agreed to put our campaign on hold to give the company time to put its zero deforestation policy into action.
Since last February, my team has been keeping a close eye on the company, including frequent dialogue with the APP staff and its conservation partners and assessors shaping the implementation of the policy. There have been, and will continue to be, many challenges.
Here are some key questions addressed by our progress report.
How well is APP enforcing its ban on forest clearance, and how is it dealing with any contraventions?
Let's start by putting this into perspective. Prior to February 2013, APP's suppliers were clearing thousands of hectares of rainforest each month. Since February 2013, it has almost entirely successfully stopped its suppliers from clearing any more forest or destroying any new areas of peatland. This is no mean feat.
However, APP, together with its partner TFT, has since confirmed two clear cases of forest clearance in breach of the FCP moratorium – one identified via an NGO investigation and the second via a subsequent internal APP review process. The total area of forest loss was approximately 140ha.
Conclusion: Overall, the implementation of the forest and peatland moratoria has been largely successful, though the cases identified revealed failings in internal oversight and signoff processes. Greenpeace welcomes APP's decision to voluntarily disclose the most recent breaches of its FCP commitments. APP must ensure that there will be no further breaches of the forest and peatland moratoria.
What progress has been made on assessments necessary to identify areas for protection for social, environmental and carbon values?
APP's assessors have been evaluating more than 2 million hectares of concessions to determine where the areas of natural forests and other important conservation values are located and how they should be protected and managed.
The HCS and HCV assessments will be completed at different stages for different regions across Indonesia, the first of which was due to be completed by the end of 2013. APP and its partners will then need to turn the recommendations from the assessments into management plans that ensure all forest and other conservation areas are being protected.
Conclusion: Given the area involved, APP has sensibly prioritised for assessment those concessions that have the most areas of natural forest within them. How the recommendations from those assessments are turned into management plans will be the critical test of APP's commitment to leaving deforestation behind.
How is it resolving its outstanding issues of social conflict?
APP has successfully identified a number of priority areas and signed an agreement with local communities in Senyerang to resolve a long-running dispute. There is also an going process to resolve other conflicts in the provinces of Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra.
Conclusion: I am encouraged by how much headway APP has made on starting to resolve its conflicts with local communities. However, APP now needs to share its on-going conflict mapping work with relevant stakeholders and identify the next set of priority areas.
Image: Indah Kiat Perawang logyards © Greenpeace
What problems still needing resolving?
One of the key issues identified in our Progress Report relates to concerns about APP's ongoing expansion plans, including whether new and future suppliers are being assessed in the same level of detail as its current list of suppliers and concessions. APP is in the process of finalising a draft 'Association Procedure' and will then seek input from stakeholders.
Conclusion: it is critical that APP sets out plans to hold any new and future suppliers to its FCP. Greenpeace therefore welcomes APP's decision to develop a policy to address how the FCP is applied to 'future pulpwood suppliers'.
APP is about to build another pulp mill in Sumatra, which will require an additional 8+ million tonnes of pulpwood per year. Although APP suppliers have already established extensive acacia plantations within the vicinity of the new mill, it is not yet sufficiently clear whether all of its suppliers can produce enough plantation fibre to meet the combined pulpwood demand for all three of APP's pulp mills in Indonesia.
Conclusion: It is critical that any expansion in APP's pulp mill capacity in Indonesia or elsewhere in the world is matched with plantation fibre availability. Therefore, APP must publicly disclose how it intends to ensure that all of its pulp mill demand is met with 100% plantation fibre from suppliers that comply with its Forest Conservation Policy.
Image: 15 October, 2011 Aerial Documentation in Sumatra © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace
What about APP’s historical deforestation?
APP has been clearing rainforest for the last twenty years. Greenpeace and other NGOs believe that APP must take account of previous forest clearance. In this regard, APP has had discussions with a number of conservation organisations and is actively preparing for landscape-level conservation / restoration initiatives, subject to the result of HCV/HCS assessments. These prioritise landscapes where the company operates in Indonesia.
Conclusion: It is important that APP's pledge to forest and peatland protection acknowledges its deforestation legacy. If sufficiently ambitious, this initiative could start to address this legacy.
What about its former customers? Is it okay for them to start buying from APP again?
Greenpeace cautions that any company intending to resume any trade with APP must apply strict conditions to commercial contracts requiring continued progress be made against the FCP and those outstanding policy issues discussed in this review, such as forest conservation/restoration.
In particular, they should seek assurances that there will be no further breaches of the forest clearance and peatland development moratoria, as outlined in the FCP. More crucially, given that APP's FCP commitments are likely to stand or fall by the quality and robustness of the conservation and management recommendations to APP's senior management, they should judge whether substantial progress has been made based on how the company responds to these landscape management recommendations.
Who else needs to be brought on board to ensure the success of this initiative in protecting Indonesia’s forests?
It is clear that the largest single threat to responsible forest management in the pulp and paper sector in Indonesia comes from the activities of APRIL, part of the RGE group. Greenpeace will continue to actively discourage companies from doing business with APRIL and any of its sister companies.
Bustar Maitar is head of the Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace International
Lead image: Forest destruction next to Sungai Sembilang Nature Conservation Park in South Sumatra © Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace.