Asia Pulp & Paper Retiring Commercial Plantations to Protect Tropical Peatlands

Today, Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP) announced it is committing to retire roughly 7,000 hectares (~17,300 acres) of commercial plantation areas to protect threatened carbon-rich peatlands — the first time that plantations on tropical peatland have been retired for conservation purposes worldwide.

Peatland development in Indonesia represents one of the single largest terrestrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the world1. Retiring these plantation areas will help support the Government of Indonesia’s target of a 26 percent reduction in emissions by 2020.

The land marked for retirement is spread across five individual acacia plantation areas in Riau and South Sumatra which have been identified as requiring immediate rehabilitation following recommendations from the applied research institute Deltares. In line with APP’s Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), a Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process will be conducted for the five areas, before any retirement proceeds.

“APP’s decision to retire these areas of commercial plantation is an important milestone in the delivery of our Forest Conservation Policy and we believe it is an unprecedented commitment,” said Aida Greenbury, APP’s Managing Director of Sustainability. “The retirement of active plantations is not an easy decision for any business to take, but we believe that taking urgent steps to protect remaining areas of peatland forest, as well as reducing and avoiding climate emissions from peatlands, must be a priority. While there is still a long way to go, and we have much to learn, this announcement today represents a major breakthrough.

“However, the reality of protecting peat landscapes is that no one company like APP can do it alone, she added. “APP’s goal of supporting the conservation of forest and peat landscapes needs to be a shared objective, and one supported by meaningful actions from both the Government and other plantation companies. This should include addressing the systemic barriers to forest and peatland protection, supporting forest restoration and ensuring development opportunities for communities.”

The announcement is part of APP’s commitment to establish a science-based landscape approach for best practice peatland management that can be used by the Indonesian government and plantation companies. It builds on the conservation pledges in the company’s FCP, which placed an immediate moratorium on all natural forests and new peatland development in February 2013.

As part of this approach, Deltares is working with APP to carry out the largest mapping exercise ever carried out on tropical peatland areas using LiDAR remote sensing technology. LiDAR, deployed from aircraft, allows Deltares to map roughly a quarter of all Indonesian peatland where APP’s suppliers are located. The area totals 4.5 million hectares, which compares to an area the size of Switzerland or the State of Pennsylvania. The resulting analysis — which will provide the foundation Deltares needs to make additional recommendations to APP on how to reduce or reverse the identified impacts of its existing plantations on neighbouring peat swamp forests, as well as greenhouse gas emissions — will be finalized in 2016.

“APP has a unique opportunity to support peatland forest conservation and emission reduction,” said Dr Aljosja Hooijer, programme leader at Deltares. “The progress announced today is a first step in a process towards the development of a new model to define best management practices in peatlands. The pioneering approach to collecting LiDAR data has allowed the technology to be deployed at an unprecedented scale economically, and will advance the science of peat and peat management not only in Indonesia, but also globally.”

Greenpeace, which is monitoring the development of the peatland best management practice model, commends both APP and Deltares for their initiative to map the peatland landscapes where APP suppliers are located.

“Today’s announcement by APP is a potential game-changer for the future of Indonesia’s peatland landscapes and tangible action to tackle climate change,” saidBustar Maitar, Global Head of Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace. “Its announcement that it is taking immediate action to retire a number of existing commercial plantation areas and restore them to peat swamp forests sets an important benchmark. Greenpeace calls on other plantation companies to take similar urgent action and work together to ensure all Indonesia’s peatland landscapes are properly monitored and protected.”  

The protection of Indonesia’s peatland landscapes requires long-term commitments and significant investment. APP’s announcement today demonstrates a clear recognition of the urgency to implement a coordinated approach to peatland protection and management. Accurate maps, adequate monitoring systems, and proper laws to enable forest conservation and landscape-level planning are lacking. The initiative led by Deltares and APP should be adopted by the government as the basis for a new model of responsible peatland protection and management.

“Greenpeace calls on the government to ensure it is not undermining conservation initiatives by progressive companies,” Maitar continued. For initiatives such as APP’s to succeed, not only do all companies and the surrounding communities need to work together, but the government needs to suspend all further plantation development on forests and peatland.”

APRIL, the other major pulp and paper company in Indonesia, also made commitments earlier this year to protect peatland forests. So far, Greenpeace says there is little sign of these commitments being translated into credible action.

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