Indonesia Forests Still Threatened

With a moratorium on new forestry concessions facing delays, an activist said on Thursday that even when in place it would have little impact on helping to preserve the environment.

The country’s forests have been in the spotlight since Indonesia signed a $1 billion funding agreement with Norway last year on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, known as REDD Plus, a UN- backed mechanism on carbon trading.

The key part of the agreement is Indonesia’s commitment to implement a moratorium on new concessions in natural forests and peatland for two years, starting on Jan. 1 this year.

However, the government is still struggling to provide the legal basis for the agreement, with at least two different drafts currently being studied by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The two drafts were submitted by the Forestry Ministry and the REDD Task Force, established by Yudhoyono to prepare institutions to implement REDD projects.

But Nordin, director of Save Our Borneo, a nongovernmental organization based in Kalimantan, said he doubted that either draft would prove effective.

“This moratorium will not be enough to improve the issuance of permits in the country or to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in the way they want to because, if it’s only applicable to primary forests, then what is the use?” he said.

“Primary or virgin forests only account for around 3 percent [of all forests]. The rest is what we call ‘logged areas,’ or forest areas that have been managed before.”

While the Forestry Ministry draft only covers conversion permits for primary forests and peatland, the draft from the REDD Task Force is much more specific about the types of permits that should no longer be issued, including those for logging, land lease, plantations and mining. It also includes secondary forests.

“You could say that this [REDD Task Force] draft is trying to solve the problem,” Nordin said.

“But this is a massive issue when you’re talking about forestry permits in Indonesia. We are talking about a mafia here, a mafia that involves almost everyone here. If one gets hit, everyone gets hit too, and that’s why they will try to protect one another.”

Hadi Daryanto, the Forestry Ministry’s director general of forestry management, said in an earlier interview with the Jakarta Globe that the ministry was already in the process of implementing a moratorium.

“It’s not something new to us, in fact, we had already taken steps before the draft was signed,” Hadi said.

He cited nine companies — seven in Papua and two in Gorontalo, on Sulawesi Island — that had been given principal permits to open forest areas for palm oil plantations last year.

These companies have since been told that their forest areas are to become High Conservation Value Forest areas, which are conservation areas within managed lands.

“Of the at least 380,000 hectares accorded to those nine companies, around 20 to 60 percent of that should be allocated for HCVF where they will not be allowed to cut down any trees,” Hadi said.

“That means that we have put a moratorium on primary forests in the converted forest areas.”

Nordin praised the ministry’s move but pointed out that trees could be cut down without the need of a permit from the central government.

“The permit to convert forest areas starts with a location permit issued by district heads,” he said.

“Then they must ask for a permit to release the forest areas for conversion from the Forestry Ministry. In addition, they also need also to obtain land ownership and business permits.”

But in practice, he said, companies could begin exploiting the forests with only the permit from the district head in hand.

“Or worse, they could just not apply for land ownership, which would mean they don’t have to pay taxes,” he said.

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