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 PHPL scores on deforestation, but hampered by competing land use

Jul 1, 2020 | FLEGT Market News

Forests certified under Indonesia’s PHPL scheme are rated better on curbing deforestation than non-certified and legality verified areas, however its sustainability credentials are adversely impacted by competing land use rights. This is among key conclusions of a report by the Indonesian Forest Monitoring Network, JPIK. 

‘PHPL: From legality to sustainability’ is based on a study of forest concessions in Central and East Kalimantan, comparing the performance of certified concessions against a range of criteria with those legally verified under the SVLK system and non-certified. 

Introduced in 2009, PHPL is described by JPIK as covering the same ground as SVLK verification in timber legality ‘but requiring more effort in social and environmental aspects’. It is mandatory for industrial timber plantations, commercial logging concessions, state-owned and private community forests and, like SVLK verification, subject to annual audit by Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs).  

“It forms an integral part of the SVLK system and [Indonesia’s] VPA and all commercial entities operating in production forest on state-owned land must, at some stage, be audited under it,”  states the report. 

JPIK found that all types of forest studied are affected by deforestation, but PHPL-certified areas have the lowest rate with 3.10%  affected over the two-year study period, followed by legality verified (4.15%) and non-certified (10.92%).  In all three, deforestation is primarily due to ‘borrow-and-use permits’ for mining and ‘timber utilisation permits’ for conversion to palm oil plantations. 

PHPL actually scored highest on ‘degradation’ with 2.37% of forest area affected, against 0.92% for legally verified and 1.64% for non-certified. However JPIK points out that this is not necessarily a point against the certification scheme.  “Degradation in this study denotes transition from primary to secondary forest,” it says. “This is not a negative per se, if control of the concession area and management practices allow for recovery.”

Forest fires also occurred in all forest areas. Lax monitoring and poor prevention and management by concessionaires was held partly to blame.  But JPIK highlights that more than half the fires occurred in areas ‘affected by deforestation due to external mining and oil palm activities’. 

Of the area of forest studied, 36% of PHPL certified concessions, 30.4% of legally verified and 34.2% of non-certified were subject to overlapping land use rights, primarily for mining. JPIK also noted that despite the forest deforestation and forest fires associated with this, PHPL concessions were given consistently good environmental ratings by the CABs. This was because the latter consider government policies that impact concessions ‘territorial integrity and environmental coherence’ out of concessionaries control and do not take them into account in audits.

The JPIK report concludes that all types of forest area studied ‘had much improved environmental performance potential if other land use permits  were not allowed to expand, effectively taking large parts of a forest concession out of long-term management’.

It also recommends that the CAB audit approach be reviewed as government policies applicable to forestland permits ‘shape environmental conditions in logging concessions’.