Headlines

Moratorium issued to protect
primary forests, peatland

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday finally signed a policy banning the conversion of primary forest and peatland for two years as part of a government pledge to combat climate change through reducing deforestation.

With the presidential instruction, all local authorities should stop issuing forestry permits, including for plantation and mining companies eyeing businesses in primary forest and peatland areas.

“The moratorium will apply to 64 million hectares of forests across the country,” Agus Purnomo, the President’s aide on climate change issues, said Thursday.

The announcement came after Yudhoyono met with editors of US media outlets at the Presidential Palace.

Agus, who is also secretary-general of the National Council on Climate Change, said the instruction included a map showing the areas that would be affected by the moratorium.

However, most of the 64 million hectares twice the size of Great Britain is located in areas already protected by the 1999 Forestry Law.

“We are double protecting these protected areas since in fact many of these areas are still prone to deforestation. We hope the moratorium will help better protect the forests,” Agus said.

He said businesspeople could still expand into the 34 million hectares categorized as degraded forest areas.

The presidential decree still allows the exploitation of peatland with a depth of less than three
meters.

Indonesia has the world’s third-largest expanse of forest with 120 million hectares of rainforest, 40 million of which are protected forest and conservation areas that cannot be exploited for commercial purposes.

The two-year moratorium is part of Indonesia’s pledge to stem deforestation in a US$1 billion deal with the Norwegian government made in May 2010.

According to a letter of intent with Norway, Indonesia is required to stop issuing new permits for exploiting natural forests and peatland within two years.

In return, Indonesia would receive money based on the total amount of carbon emissions reduced within the two years.

The moratorium was to have been implemented earlier this year, but officials including from the Forestry Ministry and the presidential taskforce on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD Plus) were divided over the definition of natural forests as stipulated in the deal.

The REDD taskforce led by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto wanted the moratorium imposed on both primary and secondary forests as well as peatland.

Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said secondary forests should remain open to commercial exploitation to aid the country’s economic development.

The differences led to a four-month delay in drafting the regulation, drawing criticism from businesses.

Dharsono Hartono, the president director of ecosystem restoration firm PT Rimba Makmur Utama, praised the presidential instruction as it would clarify the rules for doing business in forest areas.

“We hope this moratorium gives use breathing room leading to governance reform of sustainable natural resources-based businesses,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) senior campaigner Teguh Surya said the government had betrayed its promise to protect forests by only banning the conversion of primary forests and peatland rather than all naturals forests.

“The President ignored input from civil society who care about conserving forests and threw its support to big businesses, such as palm oil plantations,” he told the Post.

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