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Phil Covington headshot

Greenpeace: Positive Progress Report On APP's Forest Conservation Policy

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

Over the last several weeks, I have written a short series of stories regarding my trip to Indonesia to meet with Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), investigating their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which most significantly includes an ongoing commitment to stop natural forest clearing and end the use of natural forest pulp in their Indonesian paper mills.

Rounding off this series, this piece focuses on a timely progress report by Greenpeace, which was issued on October 29th, 2013, addressing APP's progress against their FCP over the last nine months (since the policy was introduced) as well as detailing remaining concerns and the steps that still need to be taken.

As my trip to Indonesia focused on FCP and included the chance to meet briefly with a representative from Greenpeace, the progress report tracks closely with what I learned on the ground and covers some of the material reported in my previous articles. The following summarizes the key points of the progress report.

Before getting into the details though, one statement in the conclusion of Greenpeace's progress report is perhaps the most powerful: "Our view, nine months in, is that the company is serious about its FCP plans and its key senior staff are genuinely committed to driving the delivery of these new commitments. The risk of APP again reneging on its promises appears limited at this time."

This is a pretty striking turnaround in Greenpeace's assessment of APP. As recently as May 2012, when APP began talking about a new forest protection policy, Greenpeace felt the company wasn't offering anything new in the way of real progress in protecting natural forest land - and frankly didn't trust APP was making substantive changes. The October progress report therefore signifies that much has transpired since then, and largely to the good.

The first stage in APP's FCP has been the cessation of natural forest clearing as of February 2013. On this, Greenpeace's progress report states, "Overall the implementation of the forest and peatland moratoriums has been successful." Two breaches of the moratorium are noted in the report, but Greenpeace welcomes APP's decision to voluntarily disclose them. The breaches - a result of pre-existing agreements, which could have been mitigated - amounted to 140 hectares being cleared during the last nine months. Still, this is a far cry from the routine clearing of thousands of hectares each month prior to the moratorium.

The second stage in the FCP involves the assessment of the forests in supplier concessions areas. These independently conducted assessments focus on both "High Conservation Value" (HCV) forest and "High Carbon Stock" (HCS) forest and are ongoing. (You can read more about these assessments here.) In essence, they determine the value and health of the forests on supplier concessions, and once completed, will result in recommendations being made to APP as to how to manage the land going forward.

Greenpeace details that the first round of HCV assessments will be revealed at the end of 2013, while HCS assessments won't be finished until the second quarter of 2014. In lieu of the outcomes of the assessments, the report states, "Greenpeace's view is that whilst there have been some problems, to date the process overall can be considered comprehensive and robust."

Peatland assessments constitute another key area of FCP and a big area of concern for Greenpeace, due to the potential for greenhouse gas emissions from water table drainage, and the possibility of subsidence of the peatland itself. Greenpeace notes APP's slow progress in peatland management planning, though recognizes, "the slow rate of progress is inevitable given the complexities of peatland mapping and the contentious nature of decisions on how best to conserve and manage peatland." Nonetheless, Greenpeace urges, "Progress on APP's peatland commitment must be accelerated in the next six months."

APP has already commented on Greenpeace's peatland concerns as part of their response to the progress report, and, consistent with my interview with APP's Aida Greenbury, notes that they are currently putting together a team to address this area of concern.

Social conflict mapping and resolution pertaining to proposed projects that may affect the lands people customarily own, occupy or otherwise use, is another area under assessment. Here Greenpeace commends, "Progress in the area of conflict resolution is encouraging, both in terms of the decisions made by APP regarding priority areas for conflict resolution and the advances announced in one of these areas."

HCV, HCS, peatland and social conflict mapping constitute the main pillars of the ongoing assessments. Following these, developing and implementing an integrated conservation management plan forms the next step. Greenpeace notes that APP is still in the early stages of developing such plans, indicating the first of these won't be finalized until the first quarter of 2014. These are crucial though, as the report states, "The longer term success of the FCP will stand or fall by how APP's implementation of conservation and management practices contributes to the protection and rehabilitation of the broader forest and peatland landscapes in Indonesia within which its suppliers operate."

Looking ahead, the progress report addresses plans for future expansion of the company's operations, and notes that, "APP has made it clear that its FCP commitments apply to all future expansion." This point is critical, too, because APP will have a new mill come online in 2016 in South Sumatra. The report states this will require APP suppliers to provide an additional 7+ million tonnes of pulpwood per year. While APP has asserted that it has sufficient plantation fiber available to meet the needs of the new mill, Greenpeace  asserts, "APP must publicly disclose how it intends to ensure that all of its expanded pulp mill demand is met with 100 percent plantation fiber from suppliers that comply with its FCP." On this point, APP reaffirms its response to the progress report that it has sufficient plantation pulp fiber, but says, "As part of our improvement in forecasting, we are carrying out more detailed analysis using the most recent data collected from our field work," adding, "These results will be audited and reported by a third party."

Looking to the past, the progress report addresses the need to take account of previous forest clearance carried out by APP. Greenpeace believes that APP should align with the Forest Stewardship Council's principle of a conservation/restoration plan that is equivalent in conservation value to at least the last five years of forest clearance across its supply chain. That said, Greenpeace appreciates that given the sheer size of the landscape (2.6 million hectares) - this will be difficult.

On this point, APP states in its response to the progress report that conservation will be part of the Sustainable Forest Management Plan that is developed from the HCV/HCS recommendations, and that they are, "currently reviewing the suggested five-year period." That said, it seems APP might not be prepared to go it alone, since they add, "We believe that any restoration approach will need to be implemented by other industries across many sectors."

I started with Greenpeace's view that APP is serious about its FCP commitments, so does this mean they recommend former customers of APP to re-engage with the company at this time? On this point, the report states, "Our current recommendation remains that companies should continue to closely monitor and engage with the company over its implementation of FCP. In particular, they should seek assurances that there will be no further breaches of forest clearance and peatland development moratoriums as outlined in the FCP." So no, it's not a green light just yet, which is consistent with what I heard from Greenpeace while I was in Indonesia.

But in response to Greenpeace's progress report, APP states, "We remain more committed than ever to the ambitious task we have set ourselves and look forward to continued engagement with Greenpeace and a range of other stakeholders in the months and years ahead."

My take is that having been to Indonesia, met with APP, NGOs, Greenpeace, and now reading this latest report, there seems to be a consistent message here that APP is genuinely addressing prior criticisms of its operational practices and making strides to correct them. It is a big task, an ongoing project, and one that critically hinges on what the company does after the HCS and HCV recommendations are made to senior management next year. It seems hard to imagine that they can turn back now.

[image credit: Phil Covington]

(Disclosure – travel and accommodations for the trip to Indonesia were covered by APP)

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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