This month saw the release of the latest Global Forest Watch data from the World Resources Institute (WRI), which, thanks to its high-resolution global maps, gives us an unparalleled view of the world’s forests.
Scanning through the data for 2013, I had reason for cautious optimism. Analysis reveals that while global tree cover loss in 2013 remained high at over 18 million hectares, it has fallen slightly on 2012 levels, and in Indonesia, is at its lowest point for almost a decade. This result has brought Indonesia’s three-year average down to 1.6 million hectares of annual tree cover loss.
The Global Forest Watch data also shows that Indonesia saw a slowing in the loss of primary forests, which declined to an average of less than half a million hectares per year between 2011 and 2013. Again, these are the lowest levels we have seen in the past decade.
So, why the cautious optimism? I’ll start with the caution first. As any scientist will tell you, ‘one year of data does not make a trend’. While these findings show movement in the right direction, it is too soon to definitively state the factors behind this drop. Indeed, while the 2014 data – which will be published soon by the Global Forest Watch – may not confirm the continued fall we hope for, it will help us to interpret these findings further.
Now for the optimism. Although a more in-depth exploration of the potential factors behind these findings is needed, the WRI has pointed to a number of factors that could have contributed to the fall, including a decline in agricultural commodity prices (such as palm oil), the effects of a moratorium on new licenses for forest conversion, the fact that much of the most accessible forests have already been cleared, and corporate zero-deforestation commitments.
In 2013, APP made its own landmark zero deforestation commitment as part of our wide-ranging Forest Conservation Policy, the progress of which has been independently evaluated by the Rainforest Alliance. Since then, an encouraging trend has emerged as many others have followed suit, with the likes of Kellogg’s, L’Oreal and Danone all implementing zero deforestation policies recently.
We believe that independent evaluation of any company attempting to implement ‘zero deforestation’ in its supply chain is vital as a means to verify progress. Combined with tools such as WRI’s Global Forest Watch it can help to shine a global spotlight on the challenges currently at play in Indonesia’s forests.
Since 2013, we have also been calling for other stakeholders to support us with our Zero Deforestation Policy. Whilst our own supplier forest clearance moratorium continues to hold, clearance by third-parties from encroachment, forest fires and illegal logging, continue to challenge our ability to fully implement zero-deforestation. We are taking measures to address this on our own concessions, but these are systemic issues which require better governance and multi-stakeholder collaboration.
We understand that much more work is needed to face these ongoing challenges and that Government, NGOs and the private sector must collaborate more closely to help tackle deforestation.
In the meantime, I wait with bated breath for the next update in the Global Forest Watch data. Whether we see the continued slowing of Indonesian tree cover loss in 2014, or less positive news, we welcome this innovative, open approach to monitoring forest loss around the world and hope that global leaders can use this data to better inform policymaking.
Finally, we encourage more companies to adopt similar zero deforestation policies. However, it is important that these companies go beyond pure policy announcements and fully commit to action, implementation and monitoring on the ground. Ultimately, the world needs to rectify its legacy of deforestation.
Aida Greenbury, Managing Director Sustainability, Asia Pulp & Paper