DURBAN, South Africa (AlertNet) – In front of the building where the U.N. climate change talks are taking place, the South Plaza is playing host to a smaller but impressive venue, the Indonesia Pavilion. The structure looks rather like a car showroom and boasts its own small cinema.
Although the pavilion is run by Indonesia’s national climate change body, a significant portion of its $3.3 million rental, construction and maintenance costs have been paid by two Indonesian paper and pulp companies, APP Sinar Mas and Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), along with state-owned oil company Pertamina.
The pavilion’s official booklet contains three pages of advertorials for the companies, each of which is making presentations in the pavilion during the UN climate talks in Durban. Greenpeace Indonesia charges that this is an example of “greenwashing”, in which businesses attempt to burnish their environmental credentials.
“Sinar Mas is a leading company destroying Indonesian forests and peatland, and it’s a shame for the government to welcome them to “greenwash“ it in the pavilion,” said Bustar Maitar, the director of Greenpeace Indonesia.
The Indonesia Pavilion is also being supported by the Japanese government and the United Nations Development Programme, and presentations are being made there by some non-governmental organisations and by the provincial governments of Central Kalimantan, Bali and Central Sulawesi.
In its presentation, paper company RAPP is highlighting its work on forest and biodiversity management in peatlands, while Sinar Mas has a special session on “Lessons Learned on Climate Change in Indonesia.” Pertamina explains its green bussines strategy.
Tazwin Hanif, Indonesia’s lead negotiator at the UN conference, said Indonesia is demonstrating that it is open to many environmental approaches.
“This is also to show how Indonesia is trying to solve climate change independently, not just waiting for international help to act,” said Tazwin.
THIRD LARGEST EMITTER
Indonesia is currently the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, largely because of deforestation and peatland fires. The country has set itself the ambitious target of reducing emissions by 26 percent by 2020, and by 41 percent if it receives international donor assistance. The goals were announced by the country’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the 2009 G20 meeting.
Several countries have expressed interest in assisting Indonesia in reaching its 41 percent emissions reduction, mostly through anti-deforestation and anti-forest-degradation projects. Fourteen pilot projects have been established. In 2010, Norway and Indonesia signed a bilateral agreement under which Indonesia will receive $1 billion in aid in return for a two-year moratorium on deforestation and degradation of peatland.
The government is trying a variety of projects to meet its independent 26 percent emissions reduction target, including a push into biofuel and sustainable developments programmes. It views the businesses that it has invited to co-sponsor the pavilion as part of this initiative.
Wilson T.P. Siahaan, a spokesperson for APP Sinar Mas, said that the company’s presence in the Indonesia Pavilion shows that it is not like other pulp and paper businesses.
“We are here because Sinar Mas is different. We are developing sustainable forest management and we never touch any primary forests,” he said.
But the pulp and paper industry has a controversial reputation among Indonesian environmentalists. The government’s National Climate Change Body projects that increasing paper and pulp production over the next four decades will lead to the destruction of between 6 million and 8 million hectares (15-20 million acres) of forest.
Forestry Ministry data show that although in 2009 up to 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of forest were dedicated for industrial timber use, chiefly for pulpwood, less than half of the area deforested the previous year was replanted.
Greenpeace Indonesia reports that most of the cleared areas have been poorly managed, giving as an example the province of Jambi, where Sinar Mas claims it has done sustainable forest management.
People living in the province say the expansion of the paper industry often leads to conflict with local communities. Ahmad Baki, 70, has spent all his life in Pemayungan, in Jambi Province, where Sinar Mas runs the Lontar Papyrus paper factory.
Lestari Asri Jaya, a Sinar Mas business which supplies the paper factory, cleared the forest in Baki’s area to replace it with acacia wood to produce pulp and paper, he said.
“We as the locals asked the Sinar Mas people who came here, do please sit down together and make it clear which part is yours and which part of forest is still ours to do plantation for living, so we can settle our problem and live side by side,” said Baki.
But Baki says the company did not inform the villagers which areas of the forest it would be clearing. When locals came across company signs that had been put without warning into plantations they had traditionally managed, they tore them down. Baki was arrested for vandalism and served five months in jail.
Because forest land in Indonesia is government owned, companies that receive government permits to exploit the forests are legally entitled to do so. But critics say too often the permits fail to take into account the needs and rights of local communities or indigenous peoples.
Kuntoro Mangku Subroto, head of Indonesia’s REDD+ Task Force, acknowledged in a recent speech that the country has 33,000 villages in and around its forests whose inhabitants have been there for generations, and that this may lead to conflicts over land when companies move in with government permits to cut.
Baki says that locals do not always want financial compensation for their plantations. They just need access to some of the land that they have cultivated for generations.
Since his release from jail he must must pass a Sinar Mas security guard post and ask pemission every time he wants to go to his plantation, which is now claimed as part of Sinar Mas land.
If the company decides to take it away from him, Baki doesn’t know whether or not he and his fellow villagers will be able to fight.
“We are just living for what is happening today, and trying not to think about tomorrow,” he said.
Back at the Indonesia Pavilion in Durban, Sinar Mas has been distributing a report explaining the company’s efforts to limit its carbon footprint, and promoting its sense of social responsibility for the 71,000 people who work for the company or provide services to it, as well as to villages and rural communities.
The company says it has invested almost $30,000 in scholarships for high school children and $8,000 for training scholarships.
Even so, not all the NGOS or visitors are happy with Sinar Mas and its sponsorship of Indonesia’s pavilion at the talks. AMAN, an NGO of indigenous people in Indonesia, refused to be part of the venue, and Greenpeace Indonesia has also voiced criticism.
Veby Mega Indah is a Jakarta-based freelance journalist who specializes in environmental and climate change issues.