Doubts over paper giant’s rainforest pledge

Conservationists say they are suspicious of an announcement by one of the world’s biggest pulp and paper companies, which says it will no longer log virgin rainforest.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is the world’s third largest company pulp and paper company and sells its products in 65 countries, including Australia.

In Indonesia alone, where it made the announcement, APP has a production capacity of 9 million tonnes of product per year.

Conservation groups have accused it of illegally logging protected species and directly threatening the endangered Sumatran tiger.

“APP has committed to stop logging in all natural forest,” the firm’s sustainability head Aida Greenbury told the AFP news agency. “We will only expand operations on open land and scrubland.”

In a statement, the company said that from “February 1, all of APP’s suppliers have suspended natural forest clearance”, and that it was conducting assessments to identify high-conservation-value forest for protection.

The Indonesian firm has failed to carry out similar commitments before, including an agreement with environmental group WWF signed in 2003 to protect high-conservation-value forests over an initial 12-year period.

WWF’s Aditya Bayunanda says the announcement “is a big deal, and if they’re serious with this commitment I think the conservation movement will appreciate this.”

“But again I think we need to clarify again whether these commitments are real.”

Mr Bayunanda says APP has a long history of broken promises.

“APP has several times committed to 100 per cent stop of natural forest clearance. They’ve got a timetable for 2004. They missed that. They’ve put it again for 2007. They missed that one again. They put again for 2009. They missed that as well. So there is this track record of APP not fulfilling its commitments,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s wrong for civil society and environmental groups to be a little bit suspicious that this time around it will be the same.”

APP has appointed a group called the Forest Trust to monitor its progress on fulfilling the commitment.

But Mr Bayunanda says the Forest Trust is not completely independent.

“We would only trust an independent third party and the Forest Trust are more like a consultant that is contracted by APP,” he said.

“But I don’t think that qualifies them as an independent third party monitor.”

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