In­done­sia pressed to fol­low in­dus­try lead on forests


Con­ser­va­tion­ists are urg­ing the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment to lis­ten to busi­ness and start tak­ing de­for­esta­tion se­ri­ously af­ter a ma­jor pa­per gi­ant joined the grow­ing ranks of com­pa­nies pledg­ing to stop clear­ing forests.

Asia Pa­cific Re­sources In­ter­na­tional Hold­ings Ltd (APRIL), the sec­ond largest pulp and pa­per com­pany in In­done­sia, an­nounced this week it had stopped har­vest­ing nat­u­ral for­est in a move hailed by its for­mer critic Green­peace as a “ma­jor break­through.”

In­done­sia has some of the world’s most ex­ten­sive and bio- di­verse rain­forests, but huge swathes have been chopped down by palm oil, min­ing and tim­ber com­pa­nies.

As a re­sult, Southeast Asia’s top econ­omy has be­come the world’s third-big­gest car­bon emit­ter.

APRIL and its ma­jor ri­val Asia Pulp and Pa­per ( APP), which to­gether pro­duce 80 per­cent of In­done­sia’s pulp prod­ucts, have been ac­cused of destroying vast tranches of the forests that are home to en­dan­gered species such as Su­ma­tran orang­utans and tigers.

APRIL had only last year com­mit­ted to phas­ing out de­for­esta­tion in its sup­ply chain by 2020, fol­low­ing APP’s prom­ise in 2013 to stop us­ing any logs from In­done­sia’s nat­u­ral forests in its mills.

But in what APRIL’s group pres­i­dent Praveen Sing­havi called a ma­jor step in their “sus­tain­abil­ity jour­ney,” the com­pany ceased for­est clear­ing in May and promised no new de­vel­op­ments on In­done­sian for­est or peat land.

Con­ser­va­tion groups, which stood side by side with APRIL ex­ec­u­tives in Jakarta as they made the an­nounce­ment this week, said they would be keep­ing a close eye on the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions to en­sure their prom­ises were kept.

“I think that’s where the chal­lenge is,” WWF’s Aditya Bayu- nanda told AFP on Fri­day.

“I wouldn’t say I am com­pletely pes­simistic, be­cause I think APRIL has taken some se­ri­ous steps that were not done be­fore.”

Turn­ing Tide

But far from go­ing it alone, APRIL and APP are part of a grow­ing trend of com­pa­nies dis­tanc­ing them­selves from de­for­esta­tion.

Wil­mar In­ter­na­tional, the world’s largest palm oil com­pany, an­nounced in De­cem­ber it would adopt a “zero de­for­esta­tion” pol­icy, with ri­val Golden Agri Re­sources fol­low­ing a few months later.

Re­sources firm Bar­ito Pa­cific com­mit­ted to no de­for­esta­tion and no devel­op­ment on peat land in March.

“I think that there is this pos­i­tive trend,” Bayu­nanda said.

“Th­ese com­pa­nies, in the end, they do lis­ten to what their buy­ers are ask­ing for, what the mar­kets are ask­ing for.”

In­tense pres­sure from con­sumers and green groups has forced some to change their busi­ness mod­els.

APP’s pledge to stop us­ing logs from In­done­sia’s nat­u­ral forests fol­lowed years of cam­paign­ing by green groups, which had led to the com­pany los­ing pack­ag­ing con­tracts with big brands such as food con­glom­er­ate Kraft and Bar­bie’s Mat­tel.

With in­dus­try un­der­tak­ing its own re­forms, con­ser­va­tion groups are now ramp­ing up pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment to do more to pro­tect the rain­for­est and vi­tal peat lands.

There have been mixed sig­nals so far from Pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo, who was elected in Oc­to­ber.

Last month he ex­tended a land­mark mora­to­rium ban­ning new log­ging per­mits for pri­mary or vir­gin for­est but did not ex­pand its cov­er­age, leav­ing tens of mil­lions of hectares (acres) still un­pro­tected.

He also al­lowed de­for­esta­tion for projects deemed in the na­tional in­ter­est, cru­cially ex­clud­ing in­fra­struc­ture projects and crop plan­ta­tions from the ban.

Forestry min­is­ter Siti Nur­baya Bakar de­scribed the APRIL an­nounce­ment as “sig­nif­i­cant progress in sus­tain­able for­est man­age­ment,” but Green­peace is call­ing for more con­crete steps from the gov­ern­ment as com­pa­nies make the shift.

“There is no rea­son for the gov­ern­ment to keep con­tin­u­ing busi­ness as usual,” Bus­tar Maitar, the head of Green­peace’s In­done­sia for­est cam­paign, told AFP.

“The gov­ern­ment of In­done­sia should sup­port this and should ac­com­mo­date the ef­fort from in­dus­try.”

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