By Thin Lei Win Trust.org
BANGKOK (AlertNet Climate) – Indonesia’s dwindling forests and an ambitious plan by the country’s president to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s third largest emitter are under threat due to the struggle between national and local governments for authority over precious forest land, environmental activists told AlertNet.
In February, Indonesia’s Constitution Court struck down a controversial clause of the Forestry Law, saying it was unconstitutional for the central government to designate forest zones without proper mapping, after six plaintiffs, including five district heads (known as “bupatis”) from Central Kalimantan, a province in the Indonesian portion of Borneo, asked for a review of the law.
This has left everyone wondering what would happen to millions of hectares of land that have been designated as forest zone but have not been mapped. Currently, only 14.2 million of some 130 million hectares are adequately mapped.
Among the questions being asked are: Are these areas now considered non-forest zones and will local governments be able to issue licenses at will to companies to turn them into mines and palm oil plantations?
Would that lead to further degradation of forests and increased social conflict in a sector not noted for its transparency as the government busies itself trying to map millions of hectares of land?
Is this another nail in the coffin for Indonesia’s tropical rainforests, the world’s third-largest, which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has vowed to save in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change?
“There are concerns that (the decision) inherently weakens controls on deforestation across the country by further liberalising permit allocation in the provinces and districts,” said Jago Wadley, a senior forest campaigner for the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Indonesia’s forestry and plantations sectors “are riddled with systemic corruption at all levels” and law enforcement is also weak, he said. That presents fundamental barriers to the goals of reducing deforestation and associated emissions, he said.
A number of the provinces are planning to or have already made requests to the Ministry of Forestry to re-adjust their forest lands although it’s unclear how this would affect forest cover, said Philip Wells, director at Indonesia-based Daemeter Consulting and co-author of a policy brief on the court decision.
GOVERNANCE AND DEFORESTATION
The bupatis had argued that large portions of their administrative districts, in which hundreds of thousands of people lived, had been designated as forest lands, leaving them dependent upon the Ministry of Forestry for permission to develop their districts, including giving out lucrative licenses for palm oil plantations or mining.
Prior to the court decision, they could go to jail for licensing plantations in what the national government considers a forest zone. Environmentalists say many bupatis, who became powerful after Indonesia’s decentralisation, allow widespread illegal deforestation in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
According to a report by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), “At the local level, district timber permits became an important form of patronage for bupatis, who often used them to secure political loyalties among key constituencies and to finance election campaigns and other initiatives.”
Abu Meridian, from the Indonesian environmental organisation Telapak, confirmed the problem.
“The regulation comes from the central government but the decision to give the permit is done in provincial or district levels. Even though the government asks a certain areas not to be released for palm oil, the bupatis still do it,” he said.
“The statement from the President (about cutting emissions) is good but the problem is the reality in the field,” where communities are rarely consulted about projects that would significantly affect the forests and lands they depend on for their livelihoods, he said.
The government says deforestation on a national basis has fallen to around 500,000 hectares annually, and in May 2011, Yudhoyono announced a two-year moratorium on forest concessions. Environmental activists, however, believe the annual deforestation figure is higher than reported.
ENORMOUS TASK AHEAD
Indonesia’s government has tried to address the concerns over the court’s decision but there is much disquiet over an amendment issued in July that offers companies working without permits on land still classified as forests the chance to apply for permits retroactively.
“(The amendment) is an exercise in legalising crime in the oil palm plantations and mining sectors in exchange for maintaining a veneer of central government control over land allocation,” said EIA’s Wadley.
“The government has traded the rule of law for political expediency, likely at the expense of forests, local communities and indigenous peoples,” setting a dangerous precedent, he added.
The government has announced it intends to finish mapping forest areas by the end of 2014.
Although it says 80 percent of the job has already been done, “it is still an enormous task,” Daemeter’s Wells said. “The number of kilometres that have to be mapped is still huge.”
“If you try and do it too fast, mistakes could be made and indigenous land rights not recognised, leading to problems later down the line,” he warned.
CHANCE TO DO THINGS RIGHT?
Still, Wells believes the court decision provides an opportunity to do things right.
“The provinces, the central government and the Ministry of Forestry – they all potentially have quite a lot to lose,” especially if they get entangled in more court cases, he said. “The best solution for all parties is… to reach a compromise.”
In what he calls the “best-case” scenario, the Constitutional Court’s decision would “create a new opportunity for a rational, consensus-based approach to spatial planning that maximises positive outcomes for forests, peatlands, economic development, and community rights,” said the consultancy.
The “worst-case” scenario would be a protracted disagreement between the Ministry and regional authorities over land allocation, leading to continued delays in setting borders and creating sensible land use plans and leading to worsening deforestation and climate-changing emissions.
“In my opinion, the real key to success would be for the spatial plans to be reviewed in light of targets for low carbon emissions. But that really isn’t going to work unless the provinces and the Ministry could work together,” said Wells.
Activists and researcher warn that time for getting forest mapping right may be running out.
Yudhoyono, who has said he wants to leave a green legacy of his time in power, leaves office in 2014, and many of the new presidential hopefuls are not known for their interest in environmental protection.
- Indonesia’s forests under renewed threat – experts (trust.org)
- Organised crime behind up to 90 percent of tropical deforestation – report (trust.org)
- Emission reduction policies must be based on accurate carbon measurements (rtcc.org)
- Five facts you may have forgotten about forests (rtcc.org)
[PRESS RELEASE] Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlights Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation
FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION – PLEASE SEND TO RELEVANT NETWORKS
29 June 2012.
Press release from “Coalition to save the Tripa peat swamps”
Increase in fires burning in Tripa highlight Indonesian Government failing to cease deforestation; orangutan population doomed unless illegal activities halted immediately.
Another massive wave of fires currently sweeping across the Tripa peat swamp forests has highlighted the accelerating destruction and ongoing disregard of Indonesian National Law by palm oil companies inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem, despite a high level National Investigation launched months ago, which is yet to report on findings.
A recent spike in the number of fires was recorded by satellites monitoring fire hotspot activity in Sumatra, and confirmed by field staff yesterday who filmed and photographed numerous fires burning in the palm oil concessions operating right across in Tripa.
The five companies at present actively operating in Tripa have responded to the increased media scrutiny and current investigation by increasing security on their plantations. Some are even being guarded by military and police personnel stationed along access routes while illegally lit fires burn inside.
“The ongoing destructive activities of these companies during the investigation indicates their complete disregard for Indonesian law and the authority of the ongoing investigation, and the government is allowing this to happen.” Stated Kamaruddin, lawyer for the Tripa community.
“A direct Presidential Instruction is urgently required to bring an immediate halt to the rampant and illegal destruction of Tripa, not a speech telling the world deforestation is a thing of the past.” Kamaruddin added.
“There is no doubt that each of these companies is breaking several laws. Whilst we realize, and very much appreciate and support the investigation going on (by the Department of Environment), it’s proving to be too little too late. These companies simply have to be ordered to stop immediately, and that order to be strictly enforced, otherwise the Peat Forests and inhabitants of Tripa will be lost forever”, he added.
One of the five companies operating in Tripa, PT. Kallista Alam, was challenged in court and its concession area recently reinstated as off limits to deforestation and degradation in the 2nd revision of Moratorium Map on May 25th, 2012. This particular concession has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle as it clearly contravenes National Spatial Law No 26/2007 and Government Regulation 26/2008, since it was granted inside the Leuser Ecosystem National Strategic Area for environmental protection, in which no concessions can be granted that damage the environmental protection function of the ecosystem, and in which all activities that do damage the ecosystem must be halted, and damaged areas restored.
Fires continued to rage late yesterday in the northern stretches of the PT Kallista Alam concession. Likewise, numerous obviously deliberately set fires were also observed in the concessions of PT. Surya Panen Subur 2, PT. Cemerlang Abadi, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur , PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari and an area known as the PT Patriot Guna Sakti Abadi concession, even though the latter was never formally granted.
“The situation is indeed extremely dire” reports Dr Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme. “Every time I have visited Tripa in the last 12 months I have found several orangutans, hanging on for their very survival, right at the forest edge. Its very easy to find them and we have already evacuated a few lucky ones to safer areas. But when you see the scale and speed of the current wave of destruction and the condition of the remaining forests, there can be no doubt whatsoever that many have already died in Tripa due to the fires themselves, or due to starvation as a result of the loss of their habitat and food resources”, he explained.
The Tripa peat swamp forests have received considerable international attention, much of it focusing on the fact that the burning of Tripa’s peat swamp forests made a mockery of a 1 billion USD agreement between the Governments of Indonesia and Norway to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, also known as the REDD deal, since the peat alone in Tripa sequesters huge amount of carbon that is being released into the atmosphere even now .
Tripa was also high on the agenda at the first meeting between the newly inaugurated Governor of Aceh and the European Union, just a few days ago. Furthermore, on June 13th at a global policy address on the future of Indonesia’s forests, ahead of Rio+20 summit, at CIFOR, President SBY himself proclaimed that “deforestation is a thing of the past” and “Losing our tropical rain forests would constitute the ultimate national, global and planetary disaster. That’s why Indonesia has reversed course by committing to sustainable forestry.”
Yet the ongoing destruction witnessed by the coalition team in recent days is a clear indication that these are simply empty words, and that Indonesia is giving no reasons for its international commitments to be taken as anything more than mere rhetoric.
Dr Singleton also pointed out, “There is still a decent orangutan population in Tripa, however hard and fast it is being extinguished, and there are also large tracts of land that have been cleared of forests but never used. If these companies were immediately instructed to stop all their destructive operations while the legal investigation process continues, and then removed, ideally with prosecutions and appropriate punishment, Tripa, its orangutan population, and many of the contributions it once made to local community livelihoods could still be restored.”
“But without an immediate halt it will all be lost, to the ultimate benefit of only a handful of already incredibly rich people based elsewhere. This whole thing makes absolutely no sense at all, not environmentally nor even economically. It is simply greed, on a massive scale. A simply staggering scale in fact.” Stressed Dr. Ian Singleton.
Notes for Editors:
.pdf version of the press release is available for download here
following fire hotspots maps available for download here
For Further Press inquiries, Please Contact:
Kamaruddin (Bahasa Indonesian Only)
Tripa Community Lawyer
Dr Ian Singleton
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
Also, for further media statement, please contact:
Saud Usman Nasution
Spokesperson for Indonesian National Police
+62 811 979 2222
PT. Kallista Alam
Komp. Taman Setiabudi Indah II, blok V (ruko) No. 11-14, Medan 20133 Phone: 061 – 8216541
Fax: 061 – 8216532
Jl.Cycas II Blok UU, No.55 Taman Setia Budi Indah, Medan, North Sumatera
Phone: 061-800200, 812380
PT. Surya Panen Subur 2
Jl.Pulo Ayang raya,Blok OR Kav.1 Kawasan industri Pulogadung Jakarta13930
PT. Cemerlang Abadi
Central Plaza, 3rd Floor, Jl.Jend.Sudirman Kav.47 Jakarta 12930
PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari
Rasuna Office Park ZO 10-11 Rasuna Epicentrum, Jakarta
Phone: 021-83703232, 031-5925239
Fax: 021-83704488, 031-5925387
PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur
LENDMARK Centre,Tower A, 8th floor,Jl. Jend sudirman No.1 Jakarta 12910
Phone: (021)5712790, 5712853
- Tripa continues to burn as President Yudhoyono to give global policy address on future of Indonesia’s forests (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- As Indonesia’s president talks of “sustainable growth with equity”, Tripa continues to burn | REDD Monitor (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
The Wall Street Journal – Just when it seemed safe to take a deep breath in Southeast Asia, the smoky haze that envelops the region each year is wafting up from Indonesian forests again.
Increasingly, though, experts aren’t just blaming Indonesians, who in the past have been accused of recklessly burning forest land on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan to make way for palm oil plantations – a practice that produces the smoke that then drifts northward over Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesian authorities have typically said they are doing their best to police the problem, which is hard to do given the country’s vast size and limited enforcement resources.
The question is whether other actors are fanning the flames, says Anthony Tan, executive director of the Centre for Environment, Technology & Development, Malaysia (CETDEM).
“The haze comes from Sumatra and Kalimanthan. Which companies own the estates? Malaysian and Singaporean as well as local plantation owners,” he said. As a result, “Malaysian and Singaporean companies in Indonesia also have to bear the responsibility of open burning, of slashing and burning, that is happening within their estate territories.”
Moreover, he added, “it is the respective governments’ responsibility to take them to task. Just because they operate in a foreign country, they can’t wash their hands and say it does not affect us” when it actually does.
The issue is flaring up again because the smoke, which tends to appear at least once a year, is intensifying again.
According to Malaysia’s Department of Environment, satellite images show the number of “hotspots” producing smoke in Sumatra increased to 122 on June 13 from 67 the day before. The image also showed haze drifting from Riau in central Sumatra en route towards the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. Satellite images released by the Asean Specialized Meteorological Centre on June 18 June showed hotspots in Sumatra had risen further to 310 from 163 the previous day.
Malaysia’s DOE also said that on the morning of June 15th, air quality readings in three areas reached an unhealthy level of 131. Air quality readings improved by Monday, June 18.
In Malaysia, at least, authorities agree that it’s not entirely Indonesia’s fault, and they say they are doing what they can to help alleviate the situation, including reducing burning within Malaysia’s own borders. The DOE has imposed a temporary ban on open burning in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor except for religious purposes and barbecues with a fine up to RM500,000 or imprisonment of up to five years or both.
Still, “from the trend of hotspots monitored through satellite imagery, it has always and clearly shown that most of the hotspots originated from Indonesia and (then) the smoke plumes trespass the neighboring countries,” a DOE official said in a written response.
That doesn’t necessarily address the issue of Malaysian companies operating in Indonesia, though. According to Indonesia’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, as much as 25% of the palm oil plantations in the archipelago nation are owned by Malaysian companies. This is largely because scarcity of land in Malaysia has forced big plantation companies there to expand abroad.
Many of Malaysia’s biggest palm oil companies, including Sime Darby Bhd., IOI Corp. Bhd. and Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd., are members of the Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is dedicated to making palm oil production more environmentally-friendly, and which has a zero burning policy. Its members must be certified by RSPO as responsible producers. Moreover, many analysts say they doubt many of the biggest companies would want to engage in burning because it could be too detrimental to their reputations.
But last year, the London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak said they had documentary proof that KLK subsidiary PT Menteng Jaya Sawit Perdana was burning land. KLK denied the accusations. In a statement, plantation director Roy Lim said “KLK has long abandoned using fire to clear land for new planting or replanting. Our policy and practice is zero burning for such activities.”
Whatever the case, Indonesian officials say it’s hard to police an industry that covers so much terrain and they suspect some other producers might be burning land, or buying land from farmers who burn the trees themselves.
“Of course we don’t know who does it,” said Suryana Sastradiredja, an Information, Social and Cultural Affairs Minister-Counselor at the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur. But it’s hardly surprising some land owners would want to set fires, he says. After all, “burning is the traditional method – the cheapest way to open new land.”
- Haze Over Malaysia Points to a Regional Problem (nytimes.com)
- Fires in Indonesia Threaten the Citizens of Kuala Lumpur (news.softpedia.com)
- Smokey Haze from Indonesian Fires Engulf Southeast Asia (nytimes.com)
- Haze returns to Malaysia (newsinfo.inquirer.net)