Paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) is overstating the conservation significance of its recently announced moratorium on forest conversion on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, argues a new report issued by an Indonesian activist group. The report, published by Greenomics, says that the nearly 200,000 hectares of "natural forest" APP says it won't covert to industrial plantations consists mostly of "scrubland, agriculture land or land affected by conflicts with local communities".

"The use of the phrase 'suspension of natural forest clearance' [by APP] is inappropriate," states the report, which says that only 204 hectares of the 198,941 hectares APP says is now off-limits from development is actually forest in a contiguous block.
By law, APP cannot develop plantations on land where there are conflicting claims from local communities, according to Greenomics.

The environmental group goes on to report that based in these findings, the Ministry of Forestry has asked APP to revise its "Sustainability Roadmap" to reflect the reality that its moratorium doesn't really suspend clearing of nearly 200,000 ha of natural forest.

The Greenomics report is not entirely negative, however. It notes that for a change, APP does not try to claim extra credit for preserving forest in legally mandated protected areas. "APP always claimed in the past that such protection areas had been deliberately set aside as part of its commitment to protecting natural forest in its concession areas, despite the fact that APP was already obliged by law to do so."

Greenomics says that in an assessment provided to the Ministry of Forestry APP and its suppliers "acknowledged that they had conducted forest clearance in protection areas within their concessions." The environmental group concludes that APP should now be required to compensate for the protection areas that have been cleared.

Greenomics' findings are consistent with those published by Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of Indonesian NGOs, in July.

“Our analysis found there is no natural forest left to apply their new policies to in Riau Province, since all natural forest in their ‘own’ concessions had either already been cleared or protected under Indonesian law or APP showcase commitments which are also mostly nothing more than confirmation that the company would obey the law,” said Muslim Rasyid, coordinator of Eyes on the Forest member Jikalahari, in a statement. "We believe that APP’s new policies offer no conservation benefit for any forest outside Riau either."

Drainage canals cut into deep peat to clear tropical forest contiguous with SMG/APP’s self-declared “Senepis Tiger Sanctuary”. Photo taken by Eyes on the Forest on 18 May 2012. Caption from SMG/APP: The Pulping Continues. Lower image is a Google Earth maps showing the location of the photo.

APP announced its "Sustainability Roadmap" in May 2012 as part of its effort to phase out sourcing of fiber from natural forests by 2015. The target applies only to APP-owned forest concessions, although suppliers are expected to conduct HCVF assessments on their holdings by the same year.

The initiatives are a response to criticism from environmental groups over APP's forest management practices. According to groups ranging from WWF to the Rainforest Alliance to Greenpeace, APP has converted vast areas of tropical forest and peatlands for acacia and eucalyptus plantations to feed its pulp mills. WWF estimates that APP and its suppliers have destroyed 2 million hectares of forest in Sumatra since 1984, including critical habitat for endangered tigers, elephants, orangutans, and rhinos. Conversion has also driven substantial greenhouse gas emissions. By one estimate, carbon dioxide emissions from the Indonesian pulp and paper industry amount to 600 million tons per year, or more than the total emissions from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

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