Tackling land conflict should be a priority at COP 21

In this new and exclusive edie blog, Asia Pulp & Paper's managing director of sustainability Aida Greenbury explains the importance of collaboration to address the ever-important issues of land conflict and deforestation.

Land conflict is a hugely pressing issue facing many natural resource-based, agri-businesses and communities around the world. With effective land management starting with effective land ownership and control, there’s a clear link with efforts to manage and control deforestation – if there’s no control over the forest, there’s no control over deforestation.

As we look towards COP 21 and the need to tackle global emissions intensifies, its right that the management of the world’s forests, and the role of land conflict within this, receives more attention.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in our own experience. Followers of APP’s business will know that a recent independent evaluation  by the Rainforest Alliance found that we have made moderate progress in the implementation of our Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), also widely known as our Zero Deforestation policy, which we launched with the support of The Forest Trust and Greenpeace back in February 2013. Crucially, on our critical commitment to halt deforestation, the Rainforest Alliance found that APP and our suppliers had been successful.

The Rainforest Alliance, however, also noted that clearance by unauthorized external parties continues because of overlapping concession rights with other businesses, encroachment, illegal activity or the actions of communities living near to our concessions. This is not good enough and this is why our FCP implementation plan for 2015 and beyond addresses unauthorized clearance as a key priority.

But we cannot do it alone.

Ultimately, the success of our zero deforestation policy relies on collaboration with everyone involved in the landscape – government, NGOs, other businesses and local communities. This is especially the case where there are fundamental disagreements over land use rights and even conflicting maps and claims of ownership. We need better spatial planning to develop effective policies on addressing land conflict around the world. For example in Indonesia, we recently called upon the Government to extend and enhance the Indonesian Forest Moratorium to give more time to finalize the development of Indonesia’s One Map program to provide legal clarity on ownership.

Resolving land conflict will benefit everyone. Knowledge of their rights will empower local communities.  Clarity on land boundaries means that businesses can make long term sustainable decisions. Nowhere should this impact be greater than in our efforts to tackle deforestation. It is clearly very difficult to address deforestation if it’s not even clear who has the legal right to the land in the first place, and this is an issue that applies as much in Indonesia as it does in many other  countries around the world.

Deforestation accounts for up to 25% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. If the world fails to tackle deforestation, we’ll miss a golden opportunity to tackle climate change. To echo Neeraj Prasad of the Climate Change Practice at the World Bank, the world cannot meet a 2C target and avoid the prospect of potentially catastrophic climate change if it doesn’t manage a quarter of emissions.

That REDD+ is now likely to form part of the COP21 negotiations is a promising sign that forest emissions are being taken seriously. Yet, even with billions of dollars already pledged for REDD+, the vast majority of the money pledged remains unspent, and a world where trees are worth more standing than they are cut down is still some way from being realized. Working out a fair way of pricing and verifying emissions reductions is a significant challenge, but the other major obstacle is land tenure. With poor mapping and weak controls over ownership, it is very difficult for businesses and communities alike to prove ownership of land, and thus be compensated for protecting forests on that land or even have the legal right to protect them from development. This is an urgent issue that needs to be resolved as part of preparations for REDD+ and needs to be on the agenda when policymakers meet in Paris in December for COP21.

The big lesson from our three years of zero deforestation is that the landscape does not respect lines on a map. We need more dialogue and transparency from every actor in the forest. No-one can go it alone and resolving land conflict must be at the heart of all our efforts to tackle deforestation.

Aida Greenbury is managing director for sustainability at Asia Pulp & Paper, the third largest pulp and paper producer in the world.

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