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05 Nov 2015
Continuing fires in SMG/APP concessions put their wood supply, peatland sustainability in question

EoF News (PEKANBARU)—Fires in Indonesia continues unabated. An early estimate by the Indonesian government of the haze crisis cost this year was as high as 465 trillion rupiah (US$34 billion). The total size of burned forest/land this year is estimated by LAPAN (Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space) reached 2 million hectares throughout the country, with Kalimantan and Sumatra being the most affected.

Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) published its early estimate on 28 October that emissions from Indonesian fires this year already passed 1.5 billion tons CO2 equivalent, more than German or Japanese fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2013 (Figure 1) and many days in the past 2 months the fire emissions exceeded daily CO2 emissions of the United States.

Figure 1. Fire emissions from Indonesia 1997 – 2015 by Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED), taken from 28 October 2015 updates by GFED.

 

Eyes on the Forest reported on 14 October that Sinar Mas Group/Asia Pulp & Paper (SMG/APP) is the corporate group with the highest number of hotspots this year: 39% of all high confidence hotspots in Sumatra and 53% of all high confidence hotspots on Sumatra’s peat. Three of the SMG/APP suppliers in South Sumatra, PT. Bumi Andalas Permai, PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau and PT. Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, received “Preventative Measures Notices” from Singapore’s National Environmental Agency (NEA) for possible transgression of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. They have five concession blocks totaling around 531,000 ha which are supposed to be wood suppliers for SMG/APP’s new OKI pulp mill (Map 1).

Map 1. Location of five concession blocks which had significant number of fire hotspots this year.

Landsat images show fire flames raging through PT. Bumi Andalas Permai and PT. Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries concessions (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Flames and smoke from the fires in SMG/APP’s two suppliers’ concessions visible on Landsat 8 images between 23 September and 25 October.

Landsat images over the past two months up to 2 November show that significant portion of the five concession blocks was burned, visible as dark pink/purple areas (Figure 3 and 4). Some of the areas burned were originally acacia plantations, visible as light to dark green with grids of peat canals. Intense fire flames and many high confidence fire hotspots in the area up to now seem to suggest that some of the acacia trees were burned. Due to smoke and cloud cover in the Landsat image on 1 and 2 November, it is difficult to estimate the actual size of area burned and the actual damage to APP’s plantations, but the damage could be significant.

One obvious question we should all ask is whether APP would still have sufficient wood supply for not only the new OKI mill, but also two other pulp mills, Indah Kiat Pulp & Paper in Riau Province and Lontar Papyrus in Jambi Province. On 3 November, the Wall Street Journal quoted APP as saying that it expects its pulp production to be hurt by a shortage of pulpwood supply. What would be the impact on its Forest Conservation Policy implementation?

NGOs keep questioning whether it is a sustainable and responsible business to keep these peat areas as plantations. On 21 October, Wetlands International recommended Indonesia to block existing drainage canals and phase-out drainage-based plantations on these naturally wet ecosystems.

Considering that fires reoccur on peatland each year, EoF calls for a stop of peatland clearing and draining. Already developed peatlands need to be restored or switched from plantation of drainage requiring species like acacia and oil palm to use of endemic species which allow rewetting. We appeal to the President Jokowi to use the momentum of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 21 in Paris to declare concrete steps to that effect, and solve this problem once and for all.

Figure 3. Landsat 7 and 8 images between 6 September and 2 November 2015 show acacia plantations (light to dark green with grids of peat canals), fires (bright pink and yellow) and smoke, exposed soil (different shades of pink), some of which are after burning (dark pink/purple) in concession blocks of PT. Bumi Andalas Permai and PT. Bumi Mekar Hijau.

Figure 4. Landsat 7 and 8 images between 6 September and 2 November 2015 show acacia plantations (light to dark green with grids of peat canals), fires (bright pink and yellow) and smoke, exposed soil (different shades of pink), some of which are after burning (dark pink/purple) in concession blocks of Bumi Mekar Hijau, PT. Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries and PT. Bumi Andalas Permai concessions in South Sumatra.

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EoF is a coalition of three local environmental organizations in Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia : WWF Indonesia's Tesso Nilo Programme, Jikalahari ("Forest Rescue Network Riau") and Walhi Riau (Friends of the Earth Indonesia). It was launched in December 2004 to investigate the state of Riau''s forests and the players who influence it.
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