News / Asia

Indonesia's Deforestation Moratorium Still on Hold

Deforestation, forest dependent community on the Kampar Peninsula in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Deforestation, forest dependent community on the Kampar Peninsula in Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia.

A two-year moratorium on the burning of forest lands in Indonesia, that was supposed to start at the beginning of the year, is still on hold.  The ban is part of a one billion-dollar deal with Norway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that some scientists say are the primary cause of global warming.

Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions.  Deforestation, mostly because of the burning of forests for palm oil farming and mining that currently happens at a rate of 100 million hectors a year, accounts for 50 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent by 2020.  A two-year moratorium on the development of new forest land, that was supposed to begin back in January, is a key part of Indonesia's environmental initiative and is part of a one billion dollar deal with Norway to protect forests and reduce emissions.

But the ban has been delayed and the task force charged with developing the moratorium is struggling to come up with ways to make environmental gains without causing economic pain.

Nur Masripatin, director of the Center for Standardization and Environment with the Ministry of Forestry, says it is not economically feasible to expect Indonesia to halt development in all rural areas.

“If your country, having 70 percent of your country land is forest and your population keep growing, is it realistic that in the future, 30 years in the future, you expected your forest still [is] 70 percent of the forest area?" she asked.

The task force is working on definitions she says that will help delineate what areas will be affected by the ban.

Green Peace campaigner Yuyun Idradi is skeptical that the moratorium, when it is finally enacted, will have any environmental impact.   He says the ban will only cover new land permits, not existing ones, and that most of the areas to be covered are already designated as protected forests.   He says the whole process is being delayed by corporate lobbying.

"Negotiation is being closed and there is no information at all up to now and we don't know how the new draft and when it is going to be signed," Idradi stated.

Robert Daniel with the Climate Change Unit at the British Embassy in Jakarta says when the ban is enacted, it will not significantly reduce short-term emissions of greenhouse gases.

"What you are talking about is climate change here,” Daniel said. “Very little forest will be protected as a result of the moratorium.  But that is not the point.  As we were saying before, this is a process.  It is a step along the road to reducing deforestation.”

He says the process involves getting businesses to buy into the economic advantages of sustainable development practices.  Daniel says replanting trees in logging areas, increasing productivity in existing palm oil plantations to meet growing demand and developing geothermal energy will bring both economic benefit and reduce emissions, in the long term.

The Forestry Ministry's Masripatin also sees the moratorium as part of a long-term process in managing its natural resources.

"We should not see [the immediate] impact of the moratorium.  This is very important for us to give us time to review how we manage our forestry resources in the past and what will be needed in the future," Masripatin said.

She says it is better to delay enacting the moratorium so as to develop a careful, workable plan, rather than to make a sweeping pronouncement that might damage the economy and be overturned in court.

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