Tigers expose Asia Pulp and Paper greenwash

by Bustar Maitar

September 28, 2011

Last week we launched the eye of the tiger tour in Indonesia, during which five activists will journey around Sumatra bearing witness to the forest destruction caused by companies like Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). However, a few days ago we discovered we werent the only ones planning a tour around Sumatra.

It turns out that APP had invited a number of international journalists to visit a flagship APP conservation project so that they could see for themselves how Greenpeace and other NGOs have got it all wrong about APPs environmental record. Its quite amazing – APP seem convinced that if it just spends more money on slick PR and greenwashing its image, it will never have to answer for or change its terrible environmental practices.

Unfortunately for APP, we were slipped a copy of its tour itinerary; this was an opportunity we couldnt pass up. APP and its PR company Cohn and Wolfe clearly werent planning to extend us a formal invite, so our activist tigers, dressed in their tiger stripes, checked into the same hotel that APP was using for its tour. A briefing pack was passed to the journalists showing them the information APP wouldnt be revealing on the official tour.

Greenpeace Indonesia’s activist ‘tigers’ in their tiger costumes get ready for the launch of the ‘eye of the tiger tour’ on their motorbikes. Image: Ulet Ifansasti

The ‘conservation project’ featured on APP’s tour is the Giam Siak Kecil Biosphere Reserve – a forest area that sits on top of one of Sumatras peat domes. At its heart lies a core area of protected forest, surrounded by a larger buffer zone. This buffer zone now largely consists of swathes of pulpwood plantations, planted after the original forests surrounding the core of this area were destroyed by companies like (yes, youve guessed it) – APP.

And this is where things get interesting. When APP and its suppliers got hold of these areas, they largely consisted of good quality forest. As APPs own 2007 Environmental and Social Sustainability Report Growing a Sustainable Future indicates (pp141-3), the area hosts endangered mammals, birds, reptiles as well as plant species.

Indonesian law sets limits on where pulpwood plantations may be developed:

  • Land with peatland more than three metres deep should be protected. Operations on three metre peat that involve clearance or drainage violate both Ministry of Forestry regulations and a Presidential decree.
  • Various Forestry regulations stipulate that pulpwood and other industrial timber plantations can only be established on unproductive areas (defined until 2004 as areas holding less than a particular amount of timber per hectare).
  • Within pulpwood concessions, at least 30% of each concession area is off-limits to plantation development.

Well, guess what: many of the plantations in this area are largely or entirely located on peat that is more than three metres deep. At the time that APP suppliers obtained these areas, most were heavily forested and contained a significantly greater volume of timber per hectare than they were legally allowed to clear. Mapping analysis and field investigations suggest that within several of the concessions far less than 30% of the area remains covered by forest.

Thats not all. A number of these concession holders are linked to illegal logging investigations, corruption cases and tax evasion. (Weve given further details on this to the journalists who were supposed to be on the tour hearing how wonderful APP is.) In a number of these very same concession areas, mapping analysis done by a local coalition of NGOs has shown that APP has been destroying forests that are clearly and independently identified as high conservation value.

The problem is that you cant see any of this simply from taking the flights over the biosphere reserve that APP is offering to journalists. The core area of the reserve is still forested and parts of the buffer zone are now made up of mature pulpwood plantations so it looks green and lush. You cant see the deforestation that took place before the plantations were established. The walk through the forest APP is offering takes place in an area of forest that was protected, rather than the significantly larger areas that were previously destroyed.

Greenpeace’s ‘Tiger’s Eye Tour’ was launched to bear witness to the real condition of Indonesia’s forests. Greenpeace is urging the government to review existing concessionsa and protect peatland and urges industries to implement a zero deforestation policy in their operations. Image: Ulet Ifansasti

APP will of course be taking great care to ensure that the journalists dont see any of the areas where large-scale clearance of natural forests is still taking place around the reserve or elsewhere. So weve pointed some of those areas out on the map that we handed out to the journalists at APPs event this evening in Indonesia.

Its only once you scratch beneath the surface of APPs greenwash that its extensive capacity for deception becomes clear. Were hoping that the information we have given to journalists ensures that the real story behind APPs role in this flagship conservation project will now to come to light.

(The source given by APP for this is an undated survey by the Indonesian governments own CITES Scientific Authority.)

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