New study highlights strengths and challenges of Indonesia’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard

A recent study explores the environmental credentials and performance of the Indonesian sustainable forest management standard known as the PHPL (Pengelolaan Hutan Produksi Lestari). Conducted by the Independent Forest Monitoring Network (JPIK) with the support of the EU FLEGT Facility, the analysis assesses the extent to which the PHPL could contribute to sustainability and legality of timber resources in Indonesia.

Since 2007, Indonesia has used an operator-based timber control system to ensure the legal compliance of all its timber exports. The system, widely known as the SVLK (Sistem Verificasi Legalitas Kayu), became the basis for the Timber Legality Assurance System under Indonesia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU. In 2009, Indonesia took the SVLK one step further by introducing the PHPL, a new sustainable forest management standard. Compared to the legality verification under SVLK, this new standard required additional efforts regarding the social and environmental aspects of the management of timber resources on state-owned lands.

The study aimed to identify the strengths and challenges of the PHPL scheme. It drew data from two provinces (Central and East Kalimantan) between 2015 and 2017 to compare the state of the forest in PHPL-certified concessions, SVLK-legality certified concessions, and non-certified concessions. The focus of the study was on the effect of compliance with the different standards on deforestation, forest degradation, forest fires and sustainability potential.

Major external constraints on PHPL-certified concessions

The study found that PHPL-certified concessions overall demonstrated better environmental performance in comparison to SVLK-legality certified concessions or non-certified concessions.

It was also found that the management of timber resources on state-owned land would have achieved more in terms of sustainability if not stymied by major external constraints. Key among these constraints are overlapping land use permits and conversion of forest areas to other commercial use (such as coal mining or palm oil plantations) that threaten concession integrity and prevent the implementation of long-term forest management planning.

The study also finds that the Conformity Assessment Bodies, who are tasked with assessing the performance of PHPL and SVLK-legality, consider the above constrains as factors that are beyond the concessionaries’ control and therefore are not counted against his performance when applying the related standards.

These external factors shape environmental conditions in concession areas and severely limit the extent to which PHPL’s sustainability potential is realised. The study proposes that addressing the external factors that prevent PHPL from reaching its full potential is the utmost priority. The study also proposes that criteria and indicators for the evaluation of concessions under the PHPL standard be revised. It recommends that all factors affecting production forests on state-owned land be considered when implementing assessments or monitoring.