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Phil Covington headshot

Asia Pulp and Paper: One Year After the Forest-Clearing Moratorium


Last fall we reported extensively on Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), which since February 2013 placed a moratorium on any further clearing of natural forest across the company's 38 supplier concessions in Indonesia and subsequently put an end to the use of natural wood fibers in its paper mills.

In October, we also reported on Greenpeace's assessment of how APP's moratorium was holding up. In a comprehensive report published by the organization--who up until the implementation of FCP had been one of APP's harshest critics--its assessment was generally favorable. In essence, Greenpeace's position was that while some concerns remain, the company is doing what it said it would do.

Feb. 5 marked the anniversary of APP's announcement by company Chairman Teguh Ganda Wijaya that it had stopped the destruction of natural forest lands in Indonesia, and in marking this milestone, the company has announced further areas of focus going forward. APP also hosted a debate in Jakarta to discuss their progress to-date; the debate panel involving company officials, the NGOs assisting them in their FCP implementation, and importantly, members from both WWF and the Rainforest Action Network, who remain skeptical critics of APP. More on this later--but, first, a quick recap of what APP has been doing in the last 12 months.

As well as the cessation of bulldozing the rainforest, APP engaged with third-party organizations to carry out critical environmental assessments, utilizing both High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) assessments to determine the environmental value of the concession lands. More details can be found in this prior post. Completion of these assessments is critical, because they will form the basis of recommendations to the company which will be used in its Integrated Sustainable Forest Management Plans (ISFMP) going forward.

By way of an update on both HCV and HCS, these will be completed by June of this year. In the case of HCS, this is a little later than initially forecasted, but the extension was necessary in order to gather more comprehensive field data to supplement satellite imaging.

Still, work done to date has provided sufficient feedback in order for APP to set four key priorities for 2014, which as stated by the company are as follows:

  • Overlapping licenses: The issue of overlapping licenses needs to be resolved by all concerned parties if we are to develop a system for governing all concession holders in Indonesia.

  • Community and land conflict issues: At times when the needs of communities are at odds with no-deforestation policies, an agreed and consistent way of managing the negotiation process should be developed.

  • Landscape management: Landscape level conservation is vital to the preservation of peatland, the habitat of key species and protection against forest fires, all of which can span several concession areas of differing uses. A cross sector approach must therefore be developed to manage entire landscapes to ensure their long term viability.

  • Market recognition: Policies that protect forests and peatland can only be economically viable if there is market recognition of their value. It is therefore important for the market to encourage companies to introduce and implement them.

A key learning underpinning these objectives appears to be that APP sees the need to increase cooperation with other organizations (business, government and civil society) in order to work together to resolve issues. In APP's press release, Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement said--as part of a wider statement--that, "many opportunities and obstacles that we know cannot be realized or solved by a single company."

Take, for example, the problem of overlapping licenses granted to different entities to use the same area of land. In cases when this happens, it is not something that one entity can resolve alone, but can nonetheless impact the commitments APP makes if the overlapping licensees take contrary action.

That said, APP continues to take unilateral steps which address prior concerns. For example, though Greenpeace has acted as a partner over the last year, one of the key concerns in the organization's October report was how APP will properly manage peatlands on its concessions. When we last reported on this, APP was searching for peatland experts and, as of January of this year, has announced they will work with a team from Netherlands-based Wageningen University and Research Center--an organization with international peat management expertise that will help determine best-practices specific to APP's tropical rainforest environment.

During the last year APP has also entered into dialogue with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)--whose board of directors has publicly welcomed APP's Forest Conservation Policy--and though FSC has not yet granted re-association with the company, this is something APP has expressed an ambition to achieve.

Notable too is that APP engaged with the Rainforest Alliance as of Jan. 14 of this year. The alliance will serve as a third-party evaluator of APP's implementation of the Forest Conservation Policy and will be reporting their findings in the latter part of the year.

These are all positive moves by APP, and with every new commitment and engagement with third-party organizations, it binds the company more strongly to the promises it has made. Furthermore, it is keen to offer as much transparency as possible.

For instance, APP didn't shy away from bringing in staunch critics to the debate it hosted in Jakarta. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and WWF were both around the table--and both organizations continue to remain skeptical that APP has truly changed its ways. But even so, during the discussion both WWF and RAN congratulated APP on engaging with the Rainforest Alliance; both organizations see this as an important step in providing independent verification of company practices.

Both RAN and WWF remain concerned, however, that while the FCP commits APP to a cessation of deforestation for good, scant details are provided regarding setting right the legacy of prior deforestation. Additionally, concerns remain about proper peatland management.

Aida Greenbury, APP's managing director of sustainability and stakeholder engagement, asserted in response that the legacy of deforestation will be addressed upon the completion of the HCV assessments when recommendations will be made, and of course, since they have just engaged with peat experts--peatland best practices are still to be determined. That said, APP has a plan in place for the main areas of concern of both RAN and WWF, and time will tell if it proves to be satisfactory for these organizations.

Following my own visit to Indonesia to meet with APP last October, the announcements made this month seem evident that even in the last three months or so, APP's efforts to improve and address existing concerns have moved forward in a significant way. We'll keep you posted!

Photo of APP's paper mill taken by the author in October 2013

Follow me on Twitter: @PhilCovBlog

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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