The Indonesian Forests May Breathe Now

Loss of forest habitat through pulp and paper logging and palm oil plantations has pushed endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, elephants and the orangutan closer to extinction. PHOTO: Greenpeace

Loss of forest habitat through pulp and paper logging and palm oil plantations has pushed endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhinoceros, elephants and the orangutan closer to extinction. PHOTO: Greenpeace

Indonesia has the third largest tropical rainforest in the world. The country is also the world’s largest producer of palm oil, fifth largest of coal, and tenth largest producer of pulp and paper. To say these industries are tied to resources of the land is to state the obvious. But to say that the activities are fast eating into forest cover is a matter of concern. Which is precisely why when a company like Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) – the country’s second largest paper and pulp company – announces that it will completely eliminate deforestation in its operations, the world takes notice.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific said the “good news” came after more than 40,000 Australians emailed Australian paper supplier Office Brands asking it to stop buying from APRIL because its paper was sourced from Indonesia’s old-growth rainforests. The announcement comes after rival Indonesian company Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) announced in 2013 it would cease logging in natural forests. This followed a decade-long Greenpeace campaign that cost APP more than 130 corporate customers including Disney, Mattel and Hasbro.

Over using wood from natural forests and forested peatlands (which are ecologically significant as huge stores of carbon) APRIL will rely on fiber from its plantations for the pulp. This move is touted as part of the company’s sustainable forest management policy as against a mechanism to placate customers and financiers.

While the cries of victory are yet to die down in conservationists’ quarters, the question is already about whether the positive change can be sustained and the damage repaired.

40% of Indonesia’s forest cover has been cut down since independence, a startling number that is much higher than the devastation in the world’s other mega-biodiversity hot-spots – the Congo Basin in Africa and the Amazon basin in South America. Rampant forest fires and destruction of carbon-rich peats have made Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of Greenhouse Gases, behind only the United States and China.

Activists say that even if the government imposes a stricter no-deforestation rule, it is unlikely to be able to enforce it because of Indonesia’s low conservation budget and poor law-enforcement capacity.To make the maximum impact on reducing Indonesia’s deforestation, environmentalists are pushing big corporations to commit to saving the forests and ensuring all levels in their supply chains adhere to the same policy.

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