Deforestation has severely ravaged Indonesia’s tropical forests, and a recently introduced moratorium on forest conversions would help reverse the trend, a senior official says.
President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono’s special aide on climate change, Agus Purnomo, said illegal practices such as squatting and logging, had encroached on primary forests, leading the government to consider it necessary to give double protection to areas already under legal protection from exploitation.
“The decree will help stop such problems, as it will explicitly emphasize the duty to protect forests. With the decree, the Presidential Work Unit for Development Control and Monitoring [UKP4] will be able to issue recommendations to the president on punishing perpetrators,” he said.
Brought on by the relentless expansion of palm oil plantations and mining and logging activities, deforestation has earned Indonesia the dubious distinction of being the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, just behind China and the US.
The moratorium, delayed by five months from its planned January start, was signed into law Thursday under a US$1-billion climate deal with Norway.
The government has been under pressure from industry lobbyists who promised significant investments if allowed to continue exploiting forests.
The decree will only protect primary forests — which already have legal protection — and peatland, while allowing the conversion of other forests for geothermal projects, sugar and rice plantations and ecosystem “restoration” projects.
Critics say the decree would have no impact on the current state of forests in the country.
Agus said the government would focus on protecting forests that were still intact because it would be difficult to relocate people who have already occupied degraded forests.
“We will issue more regulations on forest preservation and form an agency to oversee REDD projects.”
Indonesia’s ambition in the palm oil sector has been stated as a major reason for the government’s reluctance to include secondary forests in the regulation.
The government aims to become the largest palm oil producer in the world with a goal to produce 40 million tons of crude palm oil by 2020.
Indonesia is currently the largest exporter and producer with 7.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations, 45 percent of which are managed by smallholders.
Norway and Indonesia signed an agreement in May last year under which Jakarta promised to impose a two-year moratorium on forest clearing. In return, Norway would extend $1 billion in aid based on Indonesia’s performance in achieving long-term goals to slow deforestation.
The Norwegian government praised the moratorium as an important step that would help the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“What Indonesia is embarking on is a very serious development choice. Indonesia’s efforts to combine the goal of 7 percent economic growth with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020 are commendable,” Reuters quoted Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim as saying in a statement.
The Norwegian Environment Ministry said setting up a new Indonesian agency for slowing deforestation and monitoring and verifying greenhouse gas emissions was crucial.
Palm oil producers, however, continue to lambast the moratorium.
Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) executive director Fadhil Hasan said the moratorium could cause new problems because it ran counter to a 1990 presidential decree allowing the use of peatland less than 3 meters deep.
“The moratorium did not include the management of degraded forests that could be used for other economic activities, while the letter of intent [with Norway] said the government must identify degraded forests that could be used for other economic activities,” he said.