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World Leaders at COP21 Must Act Now to Save Our Forests

Facilitators from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture’s Agency for Agricultural Technology (BPTP) mentoring local farmers on corn cultivation. The corns are planted in between the rows of one-year Acacia trees. | Image Credit: Asia Pulp and Paper

Discussion, collaboration and commitment necessary for long-term forest protection

This week marks a critical moment for climate change. World leaders are gathering in Paris at the COP21 climate negotiations to discuss the role forests play within the broader climate debate. Their charge is to agree on a shared vision for industries, governments, civil society and consumers to halt and reverse the demise of the world’s natural forests.

That demise has been in the public eye in recent months as a result of forest fires in many parts of the world, which have been exacerbated by one of the worst El Niños since 1950. The destruction of land, the displacement of people and rise of grave health problems, which have affected many, serve to highlight the need for an urgent, regional and multi-stakeholder approach to tackling this problem. We must seize the opportunity of COP21 to implement strong policies that will prevent recent events from repeating themselves. Those at COP21, including Asia Pulp & Paper’s (APP) Managing Director of Sustainability, Aida Greenbury, must bring this conversation to the forefront and focus on the following areas to save the world’s forests.

Implementing a Landscape Approach

A multi-stakeholder approach is the most effective way to protect natural landscapes. This is a philosophy APP has adopted as part of its own work in Indonesia. The development of public-private partnerships is a key way to address several of the fundamental issues faced in effectively managing land for economic development while at the same time ensuring sustainable land supervision.

When it comes to forest protection, a landscape approach is vital – administrative boundaries, whether it is concessions, states, or countries, simply don’t matter. Forest conservation cannot be undertaken by individual actors, but requires that all stakeholders in the landscape work together. This means bringing together central and local governments, companies operating in different sectors, from pulp and paper to palm oil to mining, civil society actors and local communities. We must look for and learn from examples of best practices, and in that regard, the solutions being presented during COP21 will be invaluable.

Managing Peatland Responsibly

One of our greatest challenges in protecting forests is the implementation of processes to prevent the exploitation of peat. Peatlands provide a vital carbon sponge and their protection will help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The recent announcement by Indonesia President Widodo committing the country to better peatland management, and a moratorium on new developments on peat, is certainly welcome. The next target must be for all those operating in peatland areas to establish and share best practices in peatland management.

Providing Access to Financing

Finance is also an important piece of the puzzle. By reforming the lending criteria for financial institutions, it is possible to use capital in order to drive positive changes along the forestry supply chain.

Companies, smallholders and individuals are all ultimately economic actors and as such they must be incentivized to protect forests. We need to work toward a global system where trees are worth more standing and growing than they are chopped down. We fully support the development of initiatives such as REDD+ and the Green Climate Fund, but we must recognize that to date, these have failed to yield concrete results on the ground. Billions have been pledged, but only a fraction has been spent, and that fraction has made too little difference in countries like Indonesia. So we would urge governments in particular to look at their financing mechanisms for emerging economies and work out how we can put them to use in a transparent, accountable and effective way, including by working through the private sector.

COP21 is the last opportunity for the world to reach a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change. We can’t wait any longer. The protection of forests and peatlands need to be top line in this agreement and in return, it will make a major contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.


Ian Lifshitz is the North American director of sustainability and public affairs for Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP). He is responsible for leading the company's sustainability and media relations and other related stakeholder engagement programs across Canada,… [Read more about Ian Lifshitz]