Pulp Industry Locks in Fire Risk on Indonesia’s Peatlands

“Nearly 50% of fire alerts in the eight worst-affected pulpwood concessions are detected on areas previously designated as Peatland Protection Zones”

Jakarta, Indonesia – Today a coalition of civil society organizations published a report analyzing the role Indonesia’s pulp industry plays in recurring fire and haze episodes affecting the Southeast Asian region. Through mid November, Indonesia’s fires have released an estimated 708 mega-tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, almost double the CO2 emissions as this year’s fires in the Brazilian Amazon. Nearly one million Indonesians have suffered from respiratory infections as the result of the toxic smoke, and UNICEF estimates 10 million children in Southeast Asia were put at risk.

Despite claims to be reducing fire risk in their industrial forest plantation (Hutan Tanaman Industri, HTI) concessions, wood suppliers for both of Indonesia’s major pulp producers – the Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) Groups have experienced serious fires this year. Of the eight pulpwood concessions with the worst fires, six are wood suppliers to APP and one is a wood supplier to APRIL (see table below).

 

 

In 2015, catastrophic fires and haze are estimated to have burned 2.6 million hectares, to have caused US$ 16 billion in economic losses, and to have contributed to over 100,000 premature deaths. Some of the most badly burned areas were inside pulpwood plantation concessions, and law enforcement investigations were undertaken in Indonesia and Singapore against a number of the concession companies.

Since the 2015 fire disaster, both APP and APRIL have completed capital investments for new processing capacity in ways that compound their respective land-use pressures on peatlands, a major driver of fire risk. APP opened one of the world’s largest pulp mills in South Sumatra in late 2016, sourcing most of its wood from plantations on drained peatlands that include some of the most badly burned areas in 2015. APRIL began producing a new type of pulp, apparently utilizing a production process specifically designed to use Acacia crassicarpa, a species of wood the company only grows on peatlands.

These investments have intensified APP and APRIL’s dependence on drained peatlands, making it harder for the groups’ suppliers to adopt restoration and conservation measures. Noting the increased land-use pressure on peatlands and an intensifying El Niño cycle, the report projects that fire risk from pulpwood operations will increase in the coming years unless the pulp industry immediately begins major peatland restoration efforts on their plantation areas.

APP’s customers apparently include Nestle, according to the multinational food and beverage provider’s website. APRIL’s pulp is supplied to sister company Sateri for further processing into viscose staple fiber (VSF), used to produce synthetic textiles, and Sateri’s customers apparently include the global clothing retailers Zara and H&M, according to a 2017 report from Changing Markets. Sateri is now the world’s largest VSF producer, and Sateri customers likely include other major clothing brands that are less transparent than Zara and H&M about their suppliers.

Underscoring the link between drained peatlands and fire risk, 40% of the 2019 fire alerts detected within HTI pulpwood concessions have occurred on peatlands. Following the 2015 fires, the Government of Indonesia had protected 12.4 million hectares of peatlands, requiring HTI companies with plantations on those areas to rewet and restore them. In April 2019, those protections were substantially weakened under a Ministry of Environment and Forestry decree. The report finds that almost 50% of the fire alerts in the eight pulpwood concessions with the most fires have occurred on areas previously designated as Peatland Protection Zones under the Government’s peat management regulation.

The report’s recommendations for APP and APRIL and their wood suppliers include taking largescale restoration and protection measures for peat landscapes. To achieve this, the producers should adopt an accountable, time-bound plan for phasing-out pulpwood plantations on peatland sites. For the Government of Indonesia, the report’s recommendations include strengthening provisions for peat management and protection, as well as bolstering law enforcement to hold pulp producers and HTI license-holders legally accountable for creating high-risk conditions for peatland fires.

***

Contacts:
Syahrul Fitra, Auriga: syahrul@auriga.or.id
Aidil Fitri, Hutan Kita Institute: aidilplg@gmail.com
Sergio Baffoni, Environmental Paper Network: sergio.baffoni@environmentalpaper.org
Brihannala Morgan, Rainforest Action Network: bmorgan@ran.org
Rudiansyah, Walhi Jambi: rudi.jambi@gmail.com

Full report