This aerial photo taken on March 3, 2018 shows a protected area of the Rawa Singkil wildlife reserve as part of the Leuser Ecosystem in Trumon, South Aceh, which is being burnt in preparation for the opening of a new palm oil plantation. (AFP/Januar)
Forested areas greater than the size of the Netherlands have been burned in Indonesia in the past five years, with 30 percent of the fires occurring on pulpwood and palm oil concessions, environmental group Greenpeace said on Thursday.
Greenpeace said analysis of official data showed 4.4 million hectares of land burned over 2015 to 2019, with 1.3 million hectares of that lying in the concession areas.
The group's report said eight of the 10 palm companies with the largest burned areas in their concessions for the five years have not been sanctioned.
Indonesia's new jobs creation law, which activists say favors businesses at the expense of the environment, is "rolling out a red carpet" for more deforestation, it also said.
"Year after year they (companies) have broken the law by allowing forests to go up in flames," said Kiki Taufik, head of the Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaign.
Indonesia's environment and forestry ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
In February, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered government officials to find a permanent solution to prevent annual forest fires.
Indonesia has the biggest forests outside the Amazon and Congo and environmentalists say its remaining reserves may be exploited under the new labor law.
The government says the law aims to boost investment and competitiveness and create better quality jobs.
Among the changes in the new law that worry environmentalists is the removal of a minimum forest area.
Indonesian islands were mandated to have 30 percent forest cover per island, a benchmark policymakers call arbitrary and want replaced with more relevant metrics.
Three of the five companies Greenpeace said had the largest burned areas in their concessions from 2015 to 2019 are suppliers to Indonesia's biggest conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group, and one of the country's largest pulp and paper companies, Asia Pulp & Paper.
Sinar Mas and Asia Pulp & Paper had no comment when contacted by Reuters but said they would respond to the report.
GAPKI, Indonesia's palm oil association, declined to comment and referred Reuters to the environment ministry.
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