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APP should focus on preventing peatland fires, pay for damage

I thank Mr Jose Raymond for his letter “APP committed to stopping haze and zero deforestation” (April 27), which was a response to my earlier letter “Tackling new mills a key way to stop the haze at source” (April 23).

Indonesian soldiers spraying water on a peatland fire in Indonesia. The transboundary haze suffered by Singaporeans last year was largely due to peatland fires on APP’s concessions. Photo: REUTERS

Indonesian soldiers spraying water on a peatland fire in Indonesia. The transboundary haze suffered by Singaporeans last year was largely due to peatland fires on APP’s concessions. Photo: REUTERS

Chris Cheng Chin Hsien, Advisor to PM.Haze (People's Movement to Stop Haze)

I thank Mr Jose Raymond for his letter “APP committed to stopping haze and zero deforestation” (April 27), which was a response to my earlier letter “Tackling new mills a key way to stop the haze at source” (April 23).

In his letter, Mr Raymond acknowledged the link between land clearance and the production of forest commodities, and cited Asia Pulp and Paper’s (APP) Forest Conservation Policy to defend the company’s new OKI mill in South Sumatra. But he did not address any of our concerns in detail. First, Mr Raymond suggested that part of the new mill’s supply will come from increased yields in existing plantations. However, he did not provide evidence that yields can improve sufficiently to catch up with APP’s 50 per cent increase in wood demand with the new OKI mill.

Second, Mr Raymond said APP is conducting research to identify new plant species that can thrive in wet peatland conditions. But the OKI mill is scheduled to start operations this year, and how much any new species will actually contribute to APP’s supply remains unclear.

Third, Mr Raymond said APP is supporting communities to reduce poverty and to provide them with alternative livelihoods. Yet, APP continues to blame communities for setting fires, and social conflict remains a major issue that APP has yet to properly address.

Fourth, Mr Raymond suggested that part of the woodchip supply may come from plantations outside Indonesia without specifying these potential suppliers.

In summary, APP’s response largely repeats the old and vague messages that have been refuted by the joint report released on April 20 by 12 international and Indonesian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), “Will Asia Pulp & Paper default on its zero deforestation commitment?”.

The transboundary haze suffered by the people of Singapore last year was largely due to peatland fires on APP’s concessions. Although there is no official cost estimate of the damage caused by these fires, it is definitely a very significant figure.

The joint NGO report conservatively estimated that fires on APP’s concessions in South Sumatra alone generated 197 million tonnes of emissions in 2015. Estimating the price of carbon at US$20 (S$27) per tonne CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), APP would need to pay US$4 billion.

Why is APP not focusing on fire prevention and paying for the damage first before further expanding production? Even without fire, carbon-rich peatland releases carbon dioxide when it is drained for acacia (paper) plantations. For each five-year cycle of acacia plantation on peatland, the emission is roughly the same as clearing a forest with an area one to two times that of the plantation. This also applies to other pulp and paper companies that grow acacia on peatland, such as APRIL Group.

The Indonesian peatland restoration agency has encouraged pulp and paper companies to switch to species suitable for wet peatlands. Although this may reduce the yield of pulpwood in the short term, it is a mandatory step to create a long-term solution to haze and climate change.

Correction: In an earlier version of this letter, the writer stated that each five-year cycle of acacia plantation on peatland, the emission is roughly the same as clearing a forest with an area five times that of the plantation. That is incorrect. The emission is roughly the same as clearing a forest with an area one to two times that of the plantation.

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