Region’s Smog Shows Need for Better Oversight; More Than US$7 Billion Lost
The 61-page report, “The Dark Side of Green Growth: Human Rights Impacts of Weak Governance in Indonesia’s Forestry Sector,” finds that illegal logging and forest-sector mismanagement resulted in losses to the Indonesian government of more than US$7 billion between 2007 and 2011. Indonesia recently introduced reforms to address some of these concerns and has been touting its forestry policies as a model of sustainable ‘green growth.’ But much logging in Indonesia remains off-the-books, fees are set artificially low, and existing laws and regulations are often flaunted. A “zero burning” policy and a moratorium on forest clearing are manifestly inadequate.
“The return of the smog is only the most tangible evidence of the damage from Indonesia’s continuing failure to effectively manage its forests,” said Joe Saunders, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “Weak law enforcement, mismanagement, and corruption are to blame not only for the smog but also for the loss of billions of dollars a year in desperately needed public funds.”
The persistent failures have global implications. The smog causing so much suffering for Indonesia’s neighbors is produced by clearing forests for agriculture, a practice so widespread that it makes Indonesia’s carbon emissions among the largest in the world. The Obama administration announced on June 26, 2013, that it would invest more in sustainable forestry overseas as a way to combat climate change. However, without improvements in governance in Indonesia, greater investments by the international community may not bring significant change in the status quo.
The Indonesian government recently introduced reforms in part aimed at addressing forest mismanagement and corruption, including a timber legality certification system and a freedom of information law, but such efforts have fallen far short of their aims. The new report, an update to the 2009 Human Rights Watch report “Wild Money,” analyzes industry and government data, concluding that the pace of revenue loss has actually increased in recent years. In 2011 alone, the losses totaled more than $2 billion – more than the country’s entire health budget for that year, undermining the government’s ability to provide basic services to its population, Human Rights Watch said.
It is not only during the dry season that Indonesians suffer the negative consequences of forest mismanagement. The significant loss of revenues contributes to the government’s disappointing progress on a number of human rights concerns, notably those related to rural health care.
Indonesia’s forest communities, among the country’s poorest groups, have been harmed the most under the current system. Many of these communities have constitutionally recognized rights to use the land and forests or be adequately compensated for their loss. But the new legality certification system does not address whether timber is harvested in violation of community rights to forest lands.
Increasing demand for land to expand plantations appears to be leading to more violent land conflicts, Human Rights Watch said. The problem is especially acute on the island of Sumatra, where the majority of pulp and oil palm plantations – and most of this year’s fire hotspots – are located, often on land claimed by local communities. The government’s failure to comply with its own regulations for issuing concessions on forest land claimed by communities and its failure to hold companies accountable for violating legally required compensation agreements have led to an escalation in disputes. For example, in 2011, the escalation of long standing land disputes associated with an oil palm plantation in the Mesuji sub-district of South Sumatra led to violent clashes between local villagers and company security, leaving two local farmers and seven company staff dead.
In May the Constitutional Court ruled that the government’s practice of allocating concessions on customary land is unconstitutional, offering some hope to those communities. However, in the current climate of opaque, unaccountable forest governance, without adequate participation and oversight, identifying and registering rights to these lucrative forestlands could easily result in more, rather than fewer conflicts, Human Rights Watch said.
A resident (R) looks at the carcass of a male Sumatran elephant, its head and trunks mutilated and ivory tusks missing, in Aceh Jaya district on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. According to Natural Resources Conservation Agency the elephant was killed by a booby trap set up by unidentified people.
In the month of May, three elephants were found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park, south of Aceh. Fewer than 3,000 endangered Sumatran elephants remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Rampant expansion of palm oil, paper plantations, and mines, has destroyed nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s forest habitat over 25 years, conservationist says, and the animals remain a target of poaching.
Aceh Terkini July 5
Representing the defendant are Luhut M.P Pangaribuan, Irianto Subiakto, Rebecca F. E Siahaan, Alfian C. Sarumaha and Firman Lubis.
Jakarta Globe, July 5
Indonesia has the dubious distinction of having seen two of its tiger species fall into extinction and, as a leading environmental group says the Sumatran tiger will soon follow suit if urgent action is not taken, the government should look to India if it wants to be seen as a country serious about protecting its endangered species.
In the 1970s, there were around 1,000 Sumatran tigers, but estimates today indicate there are fewer than 400 living in the wild. By contrast, no more than 300 wild Bengal tigers were recorded in 1973, but the latest data show the species has been revived to around 1,500.
The process was initiated by Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi after a colorful campaign by environmentalists warned of the Bengal tiger’s imminent extinction.
Ghandi responded with a succession of measures, including bans on poaching and trading in tiger skins, while creating a regulatory framework to foster the protection of the Bengal tiger, which, at the time, was in even greater danger of extinction than its Sumatran counterpart.
Success at preventing the Bengal tiger’s demise, and increasing their number, resulted from a clearly defined political commitment to protect the animal’s habitat and punish poachers, underpinned by public-awareness campaigns.
Indonesia’s conservation efforts fall short
Indonesia’s efforts to protect the Sumatran tiger began in 1973 with the ratification of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an agreement that required signatories to create a special authority that dealt specifically with issues concerning endangered animals and plants.
The number of Sumatran tigers has, however, continued to weaken — a consequence of unchecked deforestation and patchy enforcement against poachers.
Indonesia has already lost two species of tigers to poachers — the last Javan and Bali tigers were seen in the 1970s and 1940s respectively.
“Generally, tigers reproduce easily and can give birth to two or three cubs each year,” said Aditya Bayunanda, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia’s Global Forest and Trade Network National Coordinator.
“Hence, the problem does not lie in the reproductive cycle, but ensuring a safe environment for them to live in. The highest fatality rate for tigers is from poaching and getting snared. Not to mention deforestation, which destroys their habitat.”
From 1985 to 1997, an estimated 67,000 square kilometers of forest were lost in Sumatra. Forest conversion has cut into protected areas. National parks have become islands, effectively marooning the tigers.
The isolation of parklands makes it harder for tigers to survive as their prey is depleted more quickly.
This contrasts sharply with the case of the Bengal tigers, where the governments of Nepal and India successfully reconnected 11 areas through wildlife corridors in 2000.
“If the situation doesn’t improve and effective measures are not taken by the government, it’s possible that these tigers will be extinct within 10 years.” – Sunarto, WWF-Indonesia
Sumatran tigers can still be found in several provinces on Indonesia’s largest island, with most thought to be in Gunung Leuser and Kerinci Seblat national parks.
But cutting down trees to make way for agriculture, plantations and settlements has encroached on the tigers’ habitat and forced them to enter villages in search of food, consequently increasing the occurrences of human-tiger conflicts.
People are, understandably, slow to hesitate to kill tigers when contact does occur, but anecdotal evidence indicates that maulings have caused communities to begin hunting tigers as a preemptive measure.
“The situation in India is different because of cultural and religious beliefs toward animal treatment,” Sunarto, the Tiger Conservation Coordinator at World Wildlife Fund Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe. “To them, animals are not just animals, they hold spiritual importance.”
Raising awareness is a fundamental precursor to any concerted conservation effort, the WWF says.
“People need to be more aware and critical of their consumer choices as the problem lies deeper than others can even imagine,” Sunarto said. “For example, choosing where one’s palm oil comes from can influence the situation as companies often clear forests and destroy the tigers’ habitat to make way for palm-oil plantations.”
The Indonesian government has taken steps to address the regulatory deficit.
“They’ve set up conservation areas with rules and regulations to prevent illegal poaching,” Sunarto said. “Measures have also been taken to safeguard the tigers’ habitat by stationing rangers to protect these creatures from poachers.
However, efforts to conserve the Bengal tiger have been more successful than those for the Sumatran tiger because India and its partners in conservation are more committed to the cause,” Sunarto said. “Indonesia’s government needs to update its laws and regulations, as well as effectively enforce these rules.”
The Ministry of Forestry has formed partnerships with palm and paper companies responsible for eroding tiger habitats. A recent report by Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental NGOs in Riau, said such partnerships amounted to little more than “greenwashing,” and that behavior had not changed.
“The current laws and regulations in place deal with illegal conversion of forests harshly. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement,” Aditya said. “If the government enforced these laws more effectively, the tiger population would benefit greatly from it.”
By Wendy Miles and Micah Fisher, Hawaii Opinion, Jakarta Post July 5
The smoke rising from fires in Sumatra can be seen from outer space. Air pollution in Sumatra, Singapore, and Malaysia has spiked, reaching levels hazardous to human health. Although the fires are of immediate concern at the regional level, they are quite disconcerting at the global scale.
The fires originate in one of Earth’s carbon super-sinks: peat swamps. Hidden underneath Sumatra’s lowland rain forests are thousands of years of partially rotted tree trunks, branches, and leaves which never fully decomposed after their submersion into water.
This dark under-world has the potential to become an inferno when exposed to air and ignited. Thus, as Indonesia’s peatlands are drained and burned, one of the world’s greatest long-term carbon sinks is being transformed into a rapid carbon source.
Scientists estimate that during the Indonesian fires of 1997, between .81-2.67 gigatons of carbon were released into Earth’s atmosphere. This is comparable to 13-40 percent of the fossil fuels emitted globally that same year, catapulting Indonesia to be ranked the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the US) according to some indices.
Over US$1.4 billion has been invested to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest fires in Indonesia. Investors include Norway, Australia, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, France, Denmark, South Korea and Japan — as well as private companies such as Merrill Lynch, the Marubeni Corporation and Gazprom. Why are these investments not working in Riau Province, where most of the fires causing the Singapore Haze have occurred?
One strategy being pursued to combat Indonesia’s forest fires and high deforestation rates is a mechanism known as REDD+, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.
Envisioned as a form of “payments for environmental services”, high-emission countries and companies pay rainforest-rich nations and communities to conserve forests, thus “offsetting” carbon emissions in one location through the sequestration of carbon in another.
This strategy is based on the premise that market logic is more effective than government regulations in curbing carbon emissions.
Indonesia now hosts more than 50 international REDD+ carbon-offsetting initiatives that promise potentially billions of dollars worth of investments. But the haze looming over Sumatra confronts REDD+ investors and Indonesia with the contradictions of market-based solutions.
Using NASA’s Active Fire Data and Indonesian Forestry Ministry concession maps of Riau, the World Resources Institute has shown that more than half of last week’s fires were on timber and oil palm concessions.
Ironically, the two corporations holding over half of these concessions are Sinar Mas and Raja Garuda Mas International (which includes Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings, Ltd.).
According to a UN-REDD inventory, these two Indonesian conglomerates fund REDD+ initiatives in Riau Province as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. Unfortunately, the emissions associated with this week’s blazes are sure to outweigh the potential offsets of REDD+ activities in Riau Province.
In the coming weeks there will be attempts to pinpoint the source of Sumatra’s peatland fires. Tracking the culprits has proven difficult in years past, as these fires are not isolated events and peat can actually smolder below ground for months or even years before resurfacing into flames.
Accusations already abound against Indonesia’s conglomerates, palm oil companies, smallholder farmers, and migrants squatting on concessions. Some of the accused are trying to increase profit margins, while others are struggling to make a daily living. But they all share the same market logic that underlies the REDD+ initiatives.
Some people will interpret these fires as an example of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. The rational individual (e.g. the Sumatran farmer or Indonesian corporation) will make ever-increasing demands on natural resources until the expected costs of his or her actions equal the anticipated benefits.
Prioritizing personal interests, individuals sharing the commons (e.g. Indonesia) ignore the impacts of their actions on others (e.g. Singapore). In the end, everyone suffers.
But Hardin’s thesis is an over-simplification of reality. Decades of research have shown that societies repeatedly overcome the risk of such tragedies — finding ways to communicate, collaborate and sustainably manage their natural resources.
The late Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom recognized that the “Global Commons” presents humanity with a new challenge. Earth’s atmosphere is a case in point.
Can we come together as nations, corporations, organizations, and individuals to build an atmospheric ethic?
Wendy Miles researches the political ecology of REDD+ in Indonesia’s peatlands. Micah Fisher has long worked and lived in Indonesia. Both Miles and Fisher are PhD students at the University of Hawaii’s geography department.