As big players in Indonesia's forestry sector come under increasing pressure to show that they are not damaging the environment, some are pledging to change their ways.
The latest heavy hitters to jump on the bandwagon are Indonesia’s second-largest pulp and paper company, Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), and Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP).
On February 5, APP launched its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) annual report with a call for NGOs, governments and businesses to work together in an effort to help tackle deforestation in Indonesia.
It announced a permanent end to natural forest clearance across its entire supply chain through the introduction of its FCP.
Covering more than 2.6 million hectares of forest concessions, the FCP represents a breakthrough moment for the global protection of forests.
The commitment is the largest and most ambitious plan for the implementation of landscape-level high conservation value and high carbon stock principles in the world.
However, in developing these plans the company has concluded that success in the long term will require commitment from many more of Indonesia’s forestry stakeholders.
“In 2014, we will finalise the largest integrated biodiversity and conservation assessments that have ever been conducted,” an APP spokesperson said.
“From these assessments, we have discovered many opportunities and obstacles that we know cannot be realised or resolved by a single company.
“It is time for all parties to get active and start working together. The days of campaigning against businesses that have shown commitment to change the way they operate, as we have, should be brought to a conclusion.
“Now is the time to focus on the future and to develop solutions to the complex issues associated with forestry in Indonesia and to promote responsible practice.”
Scott Poynton, executive director of The Forest Trust, a non-profit organisation that is helping APP ensure its policy is translated into actual change on the ground, said: “One year in and we have a moratorium on forest clearance in all its suppliers that has proven to be effective.
“HCV and HCS forest assessments are being completed, a number of social conflicts are now solved, and there is real transparency in reporting progress against its policy.
“We understand that complete trust isn’t built in a day and not even in a single year, but the company is listening to concerns and is ready to continue to implement and improve its FCP implementation. APP is 100 per cent committed to zero deforestation."
In another positive development, Asia Pacific Resources International announced late last month that it would stop buying materials from suppliers found to have sourced products from high conservation value forests (HCVF) – those rich in environmental, socio-economic biodiversity or landscape value.
It will also set up a committee consisting of forestry groups and business lobbies to oversee the policy.
APRIL was accused of setting fires on its land that contributed to last year’s haze problem, but it denied the charge, saying that it had a zero-burning policy.
Forestry campaigners hailed the company’s move as significant, but said strict implementation would be the key to ensuring any meaningful impact.
“We are mandating our suppliers who supply wood and fibre to go through an HCVF assessment,” APRIL president Praveen Singhavi said. “We will not buy from those who do not.”
Deforestation accounts for 70 per cent of carbon emissions in Indonesia, the world’s third-biggest emitter according to the United Nations.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) put APRIL’s membership on probation after it was suspended from its Forest Solutions Group.
The company has been given 12 months to show proof that it is changing its policies on deforestation or face sanctions or expulsion from the group.
Tiur Rumondang, executive director of the Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development, said: “The company has been perceived as not transparent but the WBCSD probation has pushed it towards this [change].”
Singhavi said that its Stakeholder Advisory Committee would include a representative from the Business Council and the World Wildlife Foundation, a staunch critic of its deforestation policies.
“The committee would oversee the implementation process [of this new policy],” he said.
“We would be providing data ... and allow them to visit our areas.
“We announce that kind of transparency, in terms of what we do, because we want to show to the world ... there’s nothing to hide.”
The company will also reforest 20,450 hectares in Pulau Padang, Sumatra, the last of its concession sites to be developed for plantation use.
It is part of its expansion of a 10-year US$17 million (Bt557.7 million) forest restoration programme initiated last May, when it announced that it would reforest 20,265 hectares on Sumatra’s Kampar Peninsula.
Norway, which has been working with Indonesia in the fight against deforestation, said it welcomed the move to “involve local communities and ensure environmental integrity” of the policy.
But some critics are not convinced of the firm’s sincerity, alleging that its latest move is simply a diplomatic manoeuvre to ease pressure on it.
Greenpeace condemned the policy as a recycled one, saying it failed to address deforestation by other companies under its umbrella, such as Asian Agri and Toba Pulp Lestari.
When asked about this, Singhavi said: “People who say there’s nothing new, you should ask them what they have seen us do in the past and what they are seeing today.”