Indonesian paper giants spend big on forest protection

APRIL and APP, two of Indonesia's biggest paper companies, announced commitments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris that will significantly scale up their forest protection efforts.

Two of Indonesia’s biggest pulp and paper companies announced plans this week to step up efforts to restore Indonesia’s peatlands, conserve forests and help communities earn a livelihood without expanding into forests.

Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) on Tuesday announced that it will invest US$100 million over the next decade to protect forest and peatlands in Riau, Indonesia, taking the total area protected to 400,000 hectares, or six times the size of Singapore.

Rival firm Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) on Thursday also launched a plan to work with 500 villages across the country to promote deforestation-free development. Both announcements were made on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris.

APRIL, which in June announced a zero-deforestation policy and promised to stop developing on peatlands, will spend the money on scaling up its Riau Ecosystem Restoration (RER) initiative, which rehabilitates degraded peat areas in the Indonesian province, and other conservation initiatives.

Launched by APRIL group in 2013 in partnership with UK conservation charity Fauna and Flora International and local green group Bidara, the RER has rehabilitated about 75,000 hectares of degraded peat to date. The new announcement will double this to 150,000 hectares. Prior to this announcement, APRIL has conserved 250,000 hectares of forest land.

Peat is a carbon-rich, organic soil that needs to be drained for development. It is extremely flammable when dry, and peat fires in Indonesia are one of the key causes of the choking air pollution, or haze, that plagues Southeast Asia every year.

APRIL noted that its efforts to restore peatlands had paid off, and the area covered under its Riau Ecosystem Restoration initiative had been largely protected from burning during this year’s haze, the worst on record for the region.

The company says this is the biggest private sector investment to protect and restore forests in Indonesia.

Tony Wenas, managing director of April’s Indonesia operations, said that “this commitment illustrates how private sector organisations can support climate goals not just in terms of pledges, but by going beyond them and actually putting resources on the table”.

On Thursday, Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) also launched an agro-forestry programme which will promote sustainable economic development in 500 Indonesian villages living in or near land owned by APP and its subsidiaries, so that villagers can earn a livelihood without burning forests.

During this year’s haze crisis,  APP was heavily criticised for fires on its concessions, and was investigated by Singapore’s National Environment Agency for contributing to the burning. However, the company maintained that it did not engage in burning, and instead noted that most fires spread into its concessions from outside.

In a bid to reduce illegal encroachment and slash and burn activities near its land, APP will train communities in areas such as livestock rearing, sustainable fruit and vegetable farming, and other business skills.

This commitment follows APP’s existing pledge, made earlier this year, to protect and restore of 1 million hectares of forest landscapes and to channel and coordinate US $10 million a year of in-kind and financial support into forest conservation across Indonesia.

The company has also had a zero-deforestation policy in place since 2013.

Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability, APP, noted that a key theme of COP 21 is to ensure that growth goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection.

“We believe that this new agroforestry programme will help communities to achieve economic development while protecting Indonesia’s forests,” she added.

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