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Phil Covington headshot

Asia Pulp and Paper's Forest Clearing Moratorium in Indonesia is Holding

TriplePundit's Phil Covington has just returned from a trip to Indonesia to look at deforestation issues and the sustainable turn-around of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world's largest paper and pulp companies. Follow along here.

Earlier this year, we covered the news that on February 5th 2013, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), had turned off the bulldozers and ceased clearing natural forest land in Indonesia with immediate effect. At face value, this was good news, because last year, APP's June 2012 sustainability roadmap detailed the company would only completely cease harvesting natural forest wood for their paper mills by 2015. That APP stopped sourcing logs from the natural forest two years earlier than planned was a big deal, with the announcement coming from the company chairman.

Even so, the reaction to the news was guarded. Greenpeace - who had campaigned aggressively against APP, and downstream, against big-brand-name customers who sourced packaging materials from them - while applauding the move, and recognizing the significance of the announcement, weren't about to rubber stamp the company as a responsible producer of paper products. Such approval would have to wait until APP could prove they had followed up their announcement with sustained action on the ground.

Last week, eight months and a bit after they made their commitment to end deforestation, I, along with other members of the media, had the opportunity to go down to Indonesia to meet with APP and partner NGOs to see how the moratorium was doing, as well as gain an understanding of the context of the pulp and paper industry in Indonesia (full disclosure, travel and accommodations were covered by APP, opinions are my own). This is the first of a short series on what's happening at APP in Indonesia, but, first things first - is the deforestation moratorium holding up?

In short, the answer is yes. But this hasn't been an easy switch to flip. The moratorium on forest clearing under APPs Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) covers 38 "concessions" - or vast parcels of land where wood products for APP's paper mills are sourced. Of these 38, some are APP controlled while others are controlled by supplier concession holders. In total, the area of land represented by the moratorium is 2.6 million ha, or 10,000 square miles; an area one-third of the size of the whole of Scotland. It's on these concessions that the mandate to stop deforestation of the natural forest applies - and now the area is under a series of important assessments to evaluate their environmental importance, which will dictate how the land is used in future.

We met with Neville Kemp of Ekologika whose organization is one of two currently conducting "High Conservation Value" (HCV) assessments of the concession areas for APP. HCV is a concept that was borne out of the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) certification process - but now, actually stands alone as a separate process. HCV is a system which evaluates six broad categories of global, regional or local significance encompassing the following criteria:

HCV1 - Biodiversity
HCV2 - Large ecosystems that form major landscape elements
HCV3 - Rare, threatened ecosystems
HCV4 - Ecosystem services
HCV5 - The needs of local communities - satisfying basic necessities
HCV6 - Areas critical for the traditional cultural identity of local communities

The approach Ekologika is taking is to identify the values in the concessions according to the above criteria, create a plan to manage threats to those values, then monitor and report on the status of each. Notably, the process Ekologika and other HCV practitioners follow is exactly as FSC originally specified - and as Neville explained, "It is focused on the 'values' not just the forest." An important distinction, as among other things, these areas have been home to indigenous peoples living within the natural forest ecosystem for generations.

Concurrently, The Forest Trust - now known simply as TFT - has been contracted by APP to undertake High Carbon Stock (HCS) assessments within the concessions. These assessments take account of where the land has a high concentration of above ground organic matter, and because organic matter stores carbon, HCS areas are extremely valuable in tackling climate change.

HCS categorizes land according to a stratified scale - from areas of high density forest at one extreme - with a consequent "high carbon stock value," through six diminishing levels of forest density, all the way to cleared/open land at the other extreme - unsurprisingly, offering low or no carbon stock value.

Both Ekologika and TFT are conducting their assessments in close cooperation with APP staff, with teams from each mapped to counterparts on APP's side. As they conduct their work, both organizations feel the moratorium is holding, and though three reported breaches have occurred since February, transparency has been given to these on TFT's "FCP dashboard" - a reporting tool that is tracking progress on an ongoing basis. One such breach, affecting 70 ha of natural forest, involved logging under a local agreement made prior to the Feb 5th moratorium. Still, it was acknowledged this should not have happened and steps were taken to ensure it wasn't happening elsewhere too.

HCV and HCS assessments are, of course, a major undertaking, and given the sheer size of the land mass under review, full and immediate compliance was not entirely expected. As Dejan Lewis from TFT explained, evaluating an area of 2.6 million ha, covering 38 concessions across five provinces, covering 100,000 workers in the mills and forests; involving land subject to both national and local jurisdictions - is a formidable challenge; especially as this is a specialist undertaking with a limited expert resource pool available for hire.

Still, the work is on track and remains ongoing. HCS and HCV assessments won't be completed until 2014, and after that, recommendations as to how to manage the land on the 38 concessions will be made. That point in time will be another moment of truth for APP - because then the company will have to be prepared to implement those recommendations. But as Aida Greenbury, Managing Director, Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, at APP in Jakarta told me, "We already publicly stated that we are going to adopt their recommendations."

So far, so good. But maybe some reading this remain skeptical that APP will actually follow through. Going some way towards addressing this concern is that we were able to get a firsthand reaction from Phil Aikman, Senior Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace, while at APP's offices in Indonesia; his presence in the meeting offering credibility to APP's intentions to date.

Mr Aikman's assessment is that February to present is a useful timeframe to get a sense of the progress being made. And while he says, "The moratorium is standing up," and is "heading in the right direction," - he recognizes that this is a big task and there is still work to be done. Indeed, he wasn't able to assert that any customers of APP who ceased doing business with the company should come back; instead encouraging them to continue to seek assurances from APP down the line.

A particular problem Greenpeace remains concerned about is peat-land protection. Aikman says APP will need to come up with an aggressive plan for managing this, since peat-lands account for up to 70 percent of the land in the concessions. Furthermore, since HCS and HCV assessments are ongoing now, Aikman said, "It remains to be seen what action will be taken by APP when the results are in."

But despite these reservations, when I asked him what qualities he admired about APP, he replied, "Their impatience - they take decisions and want to get things done." Additionally, Aikman said he appreciates the fact that Greenpeace is able to deal directly with APP's owners, who are not sheltered behind a CSR department.

So, although Greenpeace can't rubber stamp APP's operations just yet, I got the sense that eight months in - they are certainly sitting on the same side of the table; which is surely a good sign. In any case, it would be unreasonable to imagine Greenpeace would go from being a major critic of APP to serving them most-favored status in just eight months. Similarly, it would be hard for APP to do all that is required in such a short timeframe. APP still needs to prove itself, but at this stage - the signs are good, and ongoing efforts in line with their Forest Conservation Policy appear genuine and on course.

Look out for further articles on APP's operations from Indonesia soon!

Phil Covington headshotPhil Covington

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

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