Indonesia headed into the recent Paris climate talks with the dubious honor of being the country with the highest rate of greenhouse gas emission in the world. Indonesia skyrocketed into first place––past the United States and China––because of the devastating forest fires that have been burning across the forests and peat swamps of Kalimantan and Sumatra this fall.
There has been a lot of debate about how the catastrophic fires in Indonesia were set, and how they got so out of control. In Indonesia, traditionally fires were used to clear the dense forests for subsistence farming, but more recently fires have been used for the expansion of industrial plantations. Burning is illegal under Indonesian law, and both the largest and second largest pulp and paper companies in Indonesia––Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and APRIL––have “no burn” policies. Nevertheless, the World Resources Institute estimates that 37% of the fires were found within pulp and paper plantations.
On December 3rd, a network of five grassroots NGOs from South Sumatra, in Indonesia, released a report highlighting the fires in South Sumatra––the province most affected by the recent burning––and the close link between those fires and APP and its suppliers. Their findings are powerful:
78% of areas that are burned inside plantations are in areas owned by APP or by suppliers to APP.
This amounts to 37% of APP’s plantations in South Sumatra having gone up in smoke.
174,080 hectares of APP’s burned concession area is on carbon rich peat soil.
While APP denies having set these fires, many Indonesian NGOs still hold them responsible. And, the governments of Indoneisa and Singapore have launched legal investigations into the culpability of these companies. The report from South Sumatra NGOs outlines the following demands (in summary):
Urge all consumers, buyers and investors of companies that are involved in forest fires (such as APP) to stop cooperation and/or stop using their products, until there is evidence of improvement, proven in an evaluation by independent parties.
Urge the Indonesian government to conduct environmental audits and review licenses for the companies involved in the forest fires, and to follow up these actions with appropriate law enforcement.
Urge all companies linked to fires to restore their burned areas, especially peatlands. For the restoration efforts, the companies should be transparent with information and seek consultation about their plans with NGOs, government and affected local people.
In light of the recent agreements in Paris, APP and other companies need to take responsibility for the fires that are raging on their plantations. The Indonesian government also needs to take responsibility, and adopt and enforce laws to review and revoke existing permits on peat and to end all further expansion of industrial plantations on peatlands.