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Indonesian Development Ban Fails to Curb Deforestation

An illegal logger cuts down a tree to be turned into planks for construction in a forest south of Sampit, in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province, (File)

An illegal logger cuts down a tree to be turned into planks for construction in a forest south of Sampit, in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province, (File)

Environmental organizations say Indonesia's recently announced moratorium on developing new forest land is not slowing the rate of deforestation nor reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Environmentalists are calling for more restrictions and oversight of logging, mining and palm oil companies if the country is going to reach its goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent by 2020.

Developers ignore ban

Environmental groups say the two-year ban on new development in 45 million hectares of designated forest area is not deterring logging companies from cutting down trees for timber and paper products, and is not stopping developers from burning and converting large forest areas for palm oil plantations.

Nor has it changed Greenpeace's strategy to confront companies like Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the world's largest producers of wood products, for what it says are the company's illegal and destructive environmental practices.

Greenpeace has been successful in the past in convincing international companies like Burger King Nestle to stop doing business with APP Indonesian Greenpeace Campaigner Bustar Maitar is now calling upon toy companies Mattel and Hasbro to follow suit.

“They are using the packaging; the paper packaging produced by APP which we know is APP [and] is destroying forest in Sumatra. So what we are asking Mattel to do is, to asking their supplier to stop using natural forest for their products,” said Maitar.

APP declined VOA's request for an interview. But the company issued a statement disputing Greenpeace's allegations, saying it follows legal guidelines, uses 95 percent recycled paper in packaging, and is working towards 100 percent sustainable plantations by 2015.

Moratoriums ineffective

Lou Verchot, a climate change scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research says confronting businesses that may exploit the environment will not stop development in forest lands. He says the moratorium also by itself will have little effect. Some companies were able to gain vast concession rights before the ban was put in place and others are able to operate because there is little monitoring and enforcement in rural areas.

“Forests tend to be in remote areas of Indonesia. The access is not easy. The government is not particularly present. Law enforcement is a problem. Zoning enforcement is a problem,” Verchot explained.

The moratorium is part of the country's $1 billion deal with Norway to reduce Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emissions, which primarily come from burning forests and peat lands for farming and other development. Indonesia is the world's third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, which many scientists say contributes to global warming.

Money maker

Verchot says the $1 billion pledge from Norway pales in comparison with the $20 billion Indonesia makes each year in trading forest products with the United States alone.

Despite the moratorium's immediate limitations, Verchot says Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's decision to initiate the ban is an important step to develop environmentally sustainable business practices.

“If you are asking me if I am encouraged, I certainly am encouraged. I think it was courageous of the president to make the declaration. I think he is precipitating a discussion that needs to happen within Indonesian society. So its positive. At the same time the game's not over. The game's not won. There is still more that need to be done,” said Verchot.

He says giving developer’s incentives to increase productivity in existing plantations and replanting trees must go along with increased conservation and enforcement practices.