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Oops. Asia Pulp and Paper underestimates its carbon footprint. By a factor of 550-700

Oops. Asia Pulp and Paper underestimates its carbon footprint. By a factor of 550-700. PHOTO: Greenpeace

How big is Asia Pulp and Paper’s carbon footprint? The company is one of the biggest pulp and paper companies in the world. WWF estimates that the company has destroyed more than one million hectares of forest in Riau and Jambi provinces. Yet the company claims that its carbon footprint is “close to neutral” per ton of paper.

Three years ago, APP hired Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a UK-based consulting company, to produce a Carbon Footprint Assessment of the company’s operations. APP was delighted with the results. In August 2010, APP described its collaboration with ERM as follows:

The objective is for tangible emissions to be reduced through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – and other initiatives – and the production of carbon neutral paper in the long-term.

Recently, Rainforest Action Network and the Japanese Tropical Forest Network (JATAN) decided to take a closer look at APP’s carbon footprint. They asked themselves a simple question:

How can the biggest pulp and paper company in Indonesia, using a business model whose reliance on cutting natural forests and draining peatlands is well-documented, operating in the sector that is a leading driver of deforestation in Indonesia, which in turn is the country responsible for 25 percent of the deforestation emissions in the world, credibly claim to be making paper that is virtually “carbon neutral?”

Simple question, simple answer. ERM did not include emissions from logging, or clearing forests, or from decomposition of peat soils. So, RAN and JATAN re-calculated APP’s emissions to include deforestation and peat soil decomposition associated with raw material supply to APP’s pulp mills. Perhaps not surprisingly, RAN and JATAN’s estimate of APP’s carbon footprint is higher than that of ERM. Somewhere between 550-700 times higher, in fact.

ERM estimated APP’s carbon footprint to be 0.03 tons of CO2 per ton of paper. RAN and JATAN calculated that this figure should be between 16-21 tons of CO2e per ton of paper. RAN and JATAN’s calculations are explained in their report, “Asia Pulp & Paper’s Hidden Emissions: Calculating the Real Carbon Footprint of APP’s Paper” (pdf file 743 KB).

APP’s response to RAN and JATAN’s calculations is disingenuous, to say the least. Ian Lifshitz, Sustainability & Public Outreach Manager for APP’s Americas division, told mongabay.com that “We believe this new report grossly exaggerates and misstates APP’s carbon footprint.”

“It makes grand assumptions on land use change, peat degradation, burning and drainage that it simply can’t back up with facts and science. It applies maximum GHG emission calculations across all APP pulpwood supplier concessions without taking into account the actual state of peat, the various types and compression of peat across concessions (which greatly influences GHG emissions), the true land use state of concessions at the time of plantation conversion, the actual land conversion rate in 2006, and the issue of burning and the impact fire has on GHG emissions. It also discounts the fact that APP’s supplier afforest around 800,000 hectares of denuded, repeatedly burnt, nutrient depleted wasteland in Indonesia. Our suppliers have changed these lands from carbon sources into carbon sinks.”

RAN and JATAN make a series of recommendations for APP and ERM:

  • ERM and APP should release the full reports and associated information so that the carbon footprint assessment can be independently reviewed.
  • ERM should immediately release a public clarification statement, highlighting the limitations of their carbon footprint assessment for APP and correcting any public misreporting of the study’s findings by APP.
  • ERM should not continue to support APP in its greenwashing, and either decline to conduct further studies using their current methodology or conduct a realistic and comprehensive study that includes all relevant land use emissions.

All of which seems perfectly reasonable. Bill Barclay, RAN’s Policy and Research Director told mongabay.com that

“If APP would like to challenge our findings, we urge them to release their full report for independent review and verification. We have put forward estimates using the best available science and published field based observations to construct in an open and transparent manner what we believe is a much more accurate representation of APP’s true carbon footprint. APP has yet to do the same.”

In contrast to APP, ERM is taking a somewhat more nuanced stance:

“ERM has expressed concern to APP about the need to respond to the issues being raised and is currently engaging with APP in relation to APP’s use of ERM’s work and public statements made by APP in relation to the above.”

RAN and JATAN found that in 2006, APP’s carbon footprint was between 67 and 86 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions. That’s more than the emissions reported by 165 countries, including Denmark, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Switzerland, Ireland and New Zealand.

RAN and JATAN conclude their report with a series of recommendations for buyers of APP paper products:

  • Buyers of paper products from APP should be aware that the company is misrepresenting their carbon footprint through the ERM report.
  • Buyers of APP paper said to be produced from 100 percent acacia plantation pulp should be aware that their paper has a huge carbon footprint not disclosed by the
    company.
  • Buyers of APP paper said to be produced from 100 percent acacia plantation pulp, from 100 percent external pulp or from post consumer waste should be aware that they finance a company that is actively destroying tropical rainforests, threatening biological diversity and causing huge GHG emissions.
  • Investors in APP should be aware of the devastating impact of this company on the
    global climate and the world’s tropical forests.

And one final, somewhat understated, recommendation relating to REDD:

  • Climate mitigation actions designed for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) should not provide incentives to clear or convert natural forests and drain peatlands to develop pulp wood plantations. Pulp and paper companies should not be eligible for REDD project funding as long as they continue to source fiber for their mills from such activities The recent APP Kampar Carbon Reserve project raises serious questions in this regard.

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