Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world’s largest suppliers of paper and packaging, has pledged to stop cutting down natural forests and draining peatlands in a move that environmental campaigners hailed as a “major breakthrough”.
The announcement, made in Jakarta on Tuesday, brings to an end a long and bitter battle between the company, which is controlled by Indonesia’s powerful Wijaya family, and environmental non-government organisations led by Greenpeace.
Greenpeace has previously accused APP of wilfully destroying some of Indonesia’s last rainforests, contributing to climate change and endangering local communities and biodiversity.
Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest emitters of the greenhouse gasses that are believed to cause climate change, with the bulk of its emissions coming from deforestation and the draining of peatlands. Measured per head the country has relatively low emissions – it was ranked 127 worldwide in 2009 – but in absolute terms it is the world’s 12th biggest emitter, ahead of Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil and France.
In 2009, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed to cut carbon emissions 26 per cent from business-as-usual levels by 2020.
Norway has agreed to provide Indonesia with up to $1bn to support its efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and the degradation of peatlands.
But weak governance and rampant corruption have stymied efforts to curb logging – both legal and illegal – in natural forest areas and conservation projects have been slow to get off the ground.
Aida Greenbury, APP’s managing director for sustainability, acknowledged that the company’s history of logging in natural forests had damaged the environment and called on other paper companies in Indonesia to follow its lead.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “We have to stop converting natural forest now and save whatever is left. That’s what we expect other players to do now as well.”
Teguh Ganda Wijaya, APP’s chairman, made a rare public speech in support of the new policy saying it was “necessary as the reality of climate change is now all around us”.
While environmental campaigners have attacked APP for years, the loss of an increasing number of global customers unhappy with its environmental policies helped push the company to halt logging in natural forest areas.
Greenpeace claims that companies such as Adidas, Nestlé and Unilever all dropped APP as a packaging supplier. Ms Greenbury acknowledged that the company had lost “quite a lot” of customers but declined to confirm any names.
Greenpeace said APP’s vow was a “major breakthrough” but rejected the suggestion that it was helping the company to “greenwash” its reputation after years of environmental degradation.
“We will monitor them closely,” said Bustar Maitar, the head of the NGO’s forest campaigns in Indonesia. “We have nothing to lose. If we see any violations of their commitment, we will start our campaign again.”
Zulkifli Hasan, the forestry minister, welcomed APP’s announcement but said Indonesia still faced an uphill struggle to stop deforestation, given the size of the country, the lack of education and the profits to be made from turning forests over to palm oil or cocoa production.
Last year, natural forest fibres accounted for 20 per cent of APP’s inputs in Indonesia, according to Ms Greenbury. She said that would drop to zero by 2014.
Greenpeace mounted a similar forest protection campaign against Golden Agri-Resources, an Indonesian palm oil producer also controlled by the Wijaya family, before the company eventually pledged to stop deforestation in 2011.