On December 23, 2016 Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) announced it had started production at one of the largest pulp and tissue mills in the world. The Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) mill, in South Sumatra will produce 2 million tons of pulp each year, but according APP sources, production could touch 2.8 or even 3.3 million tons. A group of international and Indonesian NGOs (Rainforest Action Network, Wetlands International, Eyes on the Forest, Woods and Wayside International, HaKI, Auriga) warned that the new mill will endanger Indonesia’s climate change commitments, and demands APP to phase out all drainage-based plantations on peatlands. “The mill’s wood supply is grown mostly on drained peatlands, a production system that causes extremely high carbon emissions and, at times, catastrophic fires.” says a joint statement .

“When drained for the development of industrial plantations, the peat becomes vulnerable to fires and releases very large amounts of carbon dioxide. Over time, drained peatlands will subside to levels at which these areas experience increased flooding and significant declines in productivity, which will lead to increased pressures elsewhere.”

Before the OKI mill even started production- the NGOs added – it had contributed to an environmental disaster and public health emergency. The development of peatlands for industrial forestry and agriculture, including the supply base of the OKI mill, was a major cause of Indonesia’s catastrophic fires in 2015. The fires resulted in $16 billion of economic losses in Indonesia alone and exposed 43 million people to thick haze, causing hundreds of thousands to become sick with respiratory illnesses. In what The Guardian called “the year’s worst environmental disaster”, the fires released an estimated 1.75 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015, more than Germany or Japan’s total annual emissions.

NGOs ask APP to to “phase out all drainage-based plantations on peatlands, and a credible plan to rewet and restore those areas”, respect buffer zones of around remaining natural peat forest and change forestry practices on rewetted peatlands.

In 2015 APP announced the plan of rewetting 7,000 ha of plantations, but this represent a microscopic fraction of their concessions, but this is less than 2% of APP concessions and this measure, judged as a good first step, has proved to be insufficient to prevent the peat and forest fires.
Recently, APP has been criticised by the government for failing to implement the regulations on peat management, such as restoring burned peat.

“Pulp and paper buyers are increasingly concerned about their carbon footprint,” said Lafcadio Cortesi, with the Rainforest Action Network. “So for many, buying paper sourced from unsustainable peatland plantations – with an emissions profile tens of times larger than any other paper on the market – just doesn’t make sense.”

See the joint statement here.