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APP pledge to restore peatlands sets important benchmark

September 2015

One of the world’s largest paper producers is to clear and restore 7,000 hectares of its plantations in Indonesia to protect carbon-rich peatlands.

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) hopes this will encourage the Indonesian government to tighten forest protection policies.

At the same time researchers from Deltares, the Netherlands-based international environmental consultancy, hired by APP, will use sensing technology to map Indonesia’s tropical peatlands and find more areas to be conserved.

Peatlands have become vital in Indonesian environmental campaigns because they yield enormous amounts of carbon when drained, forming atmospheric carbon dioxide and contributing to climate change.

APP will block its canals that drained the peat bogs in five areas comprising the 7,000 hectares and will flood the land to recreate its natural state. This will be the first effort by a forest commodity company to restore commercial peatland, though similar projects have been conducted in national parks.

The restoration will cost APP up to $50m (£31.9m, €45m) in potential sales.

Aida Greenbury, APP’s sustainability managing director, explained: “We’re definitely about to drown our investment, so we’re basically going to count this type of sacrifice as our investment in tackling climate change.”

She emphasised, however, that the action carried commercial benefits too: “Irresponsible peatland management is detrimental to our business. If it’s not managed properly, peatland can be the cause of destruction of our plantations, including forest fires, so we need to tackle these issues.”

The commissioned high-tech mapping will offer the most comprehensive peatland information ever obtained in Indonesia. Deltares will use it to advise APP on reducing or reversing the impacts of its plantations on neighbouring peat swamp forests and greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenbury admitted that obtaining the board’s backing for the measures had been difficult. There had been “a lot of yelling”.

Greenpeace regards APP’s decision as a “potential game-changer”. Bustar Maitar, global head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia Forest Campaign, said: “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 government needs to suspend all further plantation development on forests and peatland.”

Wetlands International, a global conservation body, also Netherlands-based, welcomed the measures, but Marcel Silvius, its head of climate and land use programme, complained the restoration areas remained “just a tiny dot” in APP’s operations.

He said: “APP and its subsidiaries hold hundreds of thousands of hectares of peatland. These areas are drained, leading not only to large carbon dioxide emissions but also to soil subsidence.”

Silvius wondered whether the restoration areas would anyway become commercially useless because they had already been drained. APP countered that those areas were “very viable” at present.

The action is part of APP’s wider commitment to support global efforts to restore forests and cut greenhouse gases. The Indonesian government target is to reduce the emissions by 41%.  

Asia | Environment

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