In a move seen by critics as a sign of the government’s waning drive to save the nation’s forests, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently added the phrase “pro-business” to his strategy for achieving sustainable development.
He first used the slogan during a speech at an international conference on businesses linked to the environment, which was attended by officials from palm oil companies, in Jakarta on April 28.
The President and his ministers had been using the slogan “pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-poor and pro-environment” to express the government’s attempt to strike a balance between conserving forests and boosting the economy.
“We know that we are poised for higher growth and to play an important role as part of the climate solution. Thus, our green economic mantra is ‘pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-poor, pro-environment — and, of course, pro-business’,” Yudhoyono told the seminar in English.
“Allowing for the expansion of palm oil and forestry on degraded land is one of the areas that the government is committed to and working on.”
In the seminar, the President announced that the government would make 30 million hectares of degraded land available to palm oil companies and other forestry businesses.
Only hours after Yudhoyono made the offer, presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusubroto met with the country’s biggest palm oil producers and the Association of Palm Oil Producer (GAPKI) to seek input on how to align the country’s sustainable growth with the palm oil industry’s plans for growth and expansion.
Kuntoro, head of the presidential taskforce for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD Plus), earlier complained about lobbyists from palm oil and mining firms who he said had bogged down efforts to impose the promised moratorium on forest clearance.
Yudhoyono’s “pro-business” jargon and Kuntoro’s meeting with business players could be seen as a setback of the country’s plan to implement a Letter of Intent with Norway on forest conservation worth US$1 billion.
The Letter of Intent, signed in May 2010, was aimed at cutting deforestation in Indonesia — the world’s third largest forest nation with more than 120 million hectares of rainforest — by imposing a moratorium on forest and peatland
Palm oil firms and illegal mining have been blamed as the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia, the rate of which reached more than 1 million hectares per year as of last year.
But, as the debate on what constitutes “natural forest” continued to rage, ministers and senior officials claimed that a decree signed last week — after a four month delay — to impose the moratorium had nothing to do with the Norway agreement.
“The moratorium is not a result of [the deal with] Norway,” president special staff on climate change Agus Purnomo said, adding that the Norway money was too little compared to the value of the forests protected by the decree.
The decree covers 64 million hectares of the primary forest and peatland, but most of that area is already protected by the Forestry Law. Green activists and overseas observers have not been impressed by the moratorium.
Citing its own calculations, Greenpeace Indonesia said the moratorium should cover 104.8 million hectares if the moratorium were based on the Norway deal.
Another activist, Greenomics Indonesia, said logging in primary forests would most likely continue on 2.9 million hectares of the protected land in spite of the moratorium.
Greenomics executive director Elfian Effendi cited a ministerial decree issued by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan that allowed owners of industrial forest concessions (HTI) to convert their permits to production forest concessions (HPH) in primary forest areas. “The shifting of permits [from HTI to HPH] would allow logging in the primary forests,” he said.
Data from Greenpeace showed that the ministry had issued “principle HTI permits” to 44 companies spanning a total area of 2.9 million hectares. Zulkifli issued the decree on Dec. 31, 2010, just a day before the forest moratorium was scheduled to take place.
It was unclear how many permits were issued in the last four months.
The moratorium also allows business players to run agricultural and sugar cane plantations in primary forests.
A number of investors, including plantation and mining firms, are eyeing the government’s Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) program in Papua, which is the province with the largest area of virgin forests in Indonesia.