Banda Aceh. The Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Friday ruled in favor of a palm oil company in its lawsuit against the Aceh governor’s revocation of its permit to clear and operate on a 1,605-hectare land in Rawa Tripa, a lush forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district.
Presiding Judge Yusri Arbi said that Aceh Governor Zainal Abdullah’s decision in September 2012 to revoke the permit for plantation firm Kallista Alam, following an order from the Medan High Court, was not legally binding because the court decision was being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Kallista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation from then Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August 2011. But the governor’s decision was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of Sumatran orangutans, which are critically endangered, and other rare animals.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) dragged the governor to the Aceh state administrative court but the court rejected Walhi’s suit on April 3, 2012. Walhi then appealed the ruling to the Medan High Court. On Aug. 30, 2012, the Medan High Court ordered the governor, now Zainal Abdullah, who was elected in April 2012 , to pull the permit.
The Ministry of Environment and the Attorney General’s Office later filed a case against Kallista Alam for crimes conducted in Rawa Tripa.
Kallista Alam, however, as an affected party, filed an appeal against the Medan court decision with the Supreme Court. At the same time, it filed a lawsuit with the Banda Aceh Administrative Court contesting the revocation of the permit.
The head of the legal bureau for the Aceh government, Edrian, said the government would file an appeal against this latest verdict with the Medan High Court.
“The Aceh government’s stance is clearly to file an appeal because the governor’s decision to revoke the business permit of Kalista Alam was to follow the decision of Medan High Administrative Court,” he told Jakarta Globe on Friday.
“The panel [of judges] should consider the environmental impact created by Kallista and the impact to the residents around Rawa Tripa before deciding to grant their lawsuit. Moreover, Rawa Tripa was once under international spotlight concerning forest burning when clearing the land.”
Edrian claimed that based on investigation of the Aceh government, Kallista Alam’s initial operations had damaged the environment and led to conflicts with residents.
Walhi Aceh director T.M. Zulfikar said the verdict was a set back in the efforts to conserve the peatland and protect the orangutans in Rawa Tripa.
“Walhi Aceh will also file an appeal to the Medan High Administrative Court,” Zulfikar said.
He said that Kallista Alam should not have been able to contest the revocation as the Aceh government had full authority to issue or revoke business permits as part of its extended authority as a special region.
“We hope the Supreme Court will issue a verdict as soon as possible on the appeal filed by Kallista [Alam] so the problem won’t drag on,” he added.
A Vancouver-based mining company is under attack for a proposal that could lead to the destruction of more than one million hectares of protected forests in a region of Sumatra known for its endangered wildlife.
East Asia Minerals Corp. denies it is behind a plan to take a swath of protected forest and reclassify it as “production forest.” But a number of environmental groups, some with wide international connections, are turning up the heat on the issue, and are blaming the company for a proposed deal that would open 1.2 million hectares of jungle to mining, logging and conversion to palm-oil plantations.
Kevin Vallely, a Canadian adventurer whose expeditions have taken him to some of the wildest places on the planet, said the rain forest of northern Sumatra is an international treasure that should be protected.
“It’s one of the last, massive, great tropical rain forest jungles left in the world,” he said. “This jungle is utterly magnificent. You go in there and you know it’s a different place. It’s teeming with wildlife. Why would we want to cut down one of the world’s most amazing forests?”
The area, which includes the Leuser National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the only place in the world where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist.
But Mr. Vallely, a North Vancouver architect who travelled through the region a few years ago, said some of the animals there – notably the endangered Sumatran rhino – are on the verge of extinction.
“There are something like 20 of them left,” he said. “If this [mining and logging] starts, you know it’s going to be the end of that rain-forest ecosystem … it’s over, end of story.”
That is the concern of a coalition of NGOs that includes Greenpeace South East Asia, Friends of the Earth Indonesia and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, among others.
The groups became alarmed recently when East Asia Minerals Corp. put out a press release announcing that the Indonesian government “is close to accepting a proposal to open 1.2 million hectares of forest” in Aceh province.
The news release suggested the company was actively involved in formulating the plan, which would make it easier to develop its Miwah gold-mining project, on the northern tip of Sumatra.
“The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from ‘protected forest’ to ‘production forest,’ ” stated the release.
Edward Rochette, CEO of East Asia Minerals and the company spokesman on the Sumatra mining project, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Craig MacPhail, head of investor relations for the company, said he couldn’t discuss the Miwah project or the controversy over reclassifying protected forests. But he agreed to “clarify” the wording of the release.
He said the release was simply meant as a statement by the company to update investors on developments taking place in Sumatra.
The company, he said, is not behind the plan to open the forests to development and is simply not influential enough to guide the government of Sumatra in its policy development.
“The Ministry of Forestry [in Sumatra] has suggested plans to reclassify protected forests to production forests. That’s what they have done. We haven’t done that,” he said. “We haven’t been leading a campaign to strip the forests of Indonesia … we haven’t suggested it. We were informing our investor base [in the press release] … about what Aceh province had been putting forward.”
Mr. MacPhail said his company would like to stay out of the argument over the future of the protected forests in Sumatra. But he admitted “it’s gotten pretty hot” since the release came out last week.
It is probably going to get a lot hotter as word spreads that Sumatra’s iconic rain forest is about to be put on the chopping block.
The company is working closely with government officials in the country and have company representatives on the ground in Aceh to obtain reclassification of the forestry zone from “protected forest” to “production forest.” East Asia Minerals has implemented a new Corporate Social Responsibility program and hired ex-government officials to help them with these efforts.
- Greenpeace: East Asia Mining Behind the Reclassification of Aceh’s Protection Forest (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- PRESS RELEASE: Aceh plans to clear 1.2 million hectares of protected forest trigger alarm over increase in landslides, floods and other natural disasters. (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Mining company working with Indonesian government to strip forest of protected status (guardian.co.uk)
Aceh is currently preparing to open over 1.2 million hectares of protected forest for the development of mines, plantations, roads, logging and palm oil expansion. This devastating plan would reduce total forest cover of Aceh from 68% to 45% and see the destruction of Tripa and other areas of the protected Leuser Ecosystem driving Sumatran orangutan, elephants, tigers and rhinos to extinction.
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Environmental scientists and institutions are calling on the Aceh provincial administration to maintain the province’s biodiversity amid fears that an incoming spatial plan will further exploit its vast forests.
The scientists also called on the administration to preserve protected species as well as guarantee food supplies for residents living in the province’s lowlands.
“We expect the Aceh provincial administration to make use of scientific findings made by scientists working on biodiversity in Aceh and other countries,” said Antony J. Lynam, secretary of the Asia Pacific chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC).
The association held a chapter meeting in Banda Aceh from March 18-22.
Scientists presented their research from various countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand at the conference.
“Through the research results, policy makers can decide on policies related to sustainable environmental management for the good of the public,” said Lynam.
Researchers grouped under ATBC came up with a declaration and recommendations for the Aceh administration, especially related to the provincial spatial plan (RTRW) that will be implemented soon.
The scientists said Aceh had a unique culture with the presence of customary institutions such as Mukim and Panglima Uteun, which in previous centuries had preserved 3.7 million hectares of forest for the welfare and well-being of future generations.
That was why Aceh’s forests were essential for food security through water supply management during dry and rainy seasons.
“Deforestation in Aceh’s highlands will increase the risk of flash floods for people living downstream in the coastal areas as well as threatening areas where special species such as elephants, tigers and orangutan live together,” said Lynam.
The special autonomy granted to Aceh by the central government allowed the province to develop an innovative RTRW, showing that economic development and environmentally-based management could be implemented
Aceh’s forests have been globally recognized, with the Gunung Leuser National Park inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, scientists believe that some components of the Aceh RTRW, especially the development of the forestry sector and latest infrastructure projects, will pose serious risks to the environment, such as a loss of natural hydrology functions and serious damage in lowland rivers and fisheries, which will have a negative effect on human life and biodiversity.
Lynam said the scientists recommended that the Aceh RTRW be based on high quality spatial data, which was already available in various provincial agencies. The data includes maps of forest areas along rivers, environmental risks, soil types, geological disasters, population, rain intensity and wildlife in Aceh.
Meanwhile, Bill Laurence of James Cook University, Australia, said the provincial administration had to avoid opening access roads around forests, especially the remaining conservation forests.
“Opening roads around those ecosystem areas would be like opening a wound that would never heal. Roads will provide access to forest pillaging and opening,” he said.
“Once the infrastructure is developed, then the forest will head toward destruction,” he added.
Laurence expected the Aceh administration to carefully consider opening roads in ecosystem areas, including for reasons related to improving the public’s economic condition.
“We must prevent long-term, bigger losses that will overshadow short-term benefits,” he said.
- Sciencists urged to stand up for Aceh’s biodiversity (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Conservation scientists: Aceh’s spatial plan a risk to forests, wildlife, and people (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
By Chris Lang, REDD Monitor | 22nd March 2013
More details about the Province of Aceh’s proposed spatial plan are emerging. The Jakarta Post reported this week that if the plan were approved in its current form, an area of 1.2 million hectares of forest would be converted “into plantation and mining areas and other purposes”.
The plan proposes the creation of a transmigration site inside the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra, recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This covers a total area of 2.5 million hectares and consists of three national parks, including Gunung Leuser National Park in Aceh. The proposed spatial plan makes no mention of either the Leuser Ecosystem or of the Ulu Masen REDD project.
According to a press release from conservationists in Aceh, an area of slightly less than one million hectares is proposed to be allocated as mining concessions. Logging concessions would cover 416,086 hectares and oil palm plantations a further 256,250 hectares.
The protected status of the Tripa Peat Swamp would be removed. An extensive road network would be revived under the plan. Known locally as the “spider’s web”, the plan was previously rejected because of the impact it would have on Aceh’s forests. Meanwhile, only 14,704 hectares is proposed to be allocated to communities.
Earlier this week, environmentalists protested outside the Hermes Hotel in Banda Aceh, demanding that the government cancel the proposed spatial plan.
An on-line petition has been set up, which already has more than 16,000 signatures, asking Zaini Abdullah, the Govenor of Aceh, to reject the plan to convert 1.2 million hectares of Aceh’s forests and to review the spatial plan. The petition also asks the governments of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland “to assist with the funding and technical support for the Aceh Government to revisit and revise this potential disaster”. Sign the petition here, or click on the image below:
An interesting question is whether Aceh’s proposals are in breach of the US$1 billion Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. Obviously, they are in breach of the spirit of REDD, because the proposals will increase emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The Letter of Intent between Norway and Indonesia, signed in May 2010 states that,
The purpose of the Partnership is to contribute to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and peatland conversion.
This is supposed to be achieved by “Conducting a policy dialogue on international climate change policy,” in particular on REDD, and “Collaboration in supporting the development and implementation of Indonesia’s REDD+ strategy.”
According to the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force website, completing the spatial plan was part of “Aceh’s 2011 Operational Framework for REDD+ Implementation”. Although it was not completed in 2011, presumably the spatial plan for Aceh remains under the framework of Indonesia’s REDD programme.
But whether the Norwegian Government (or any of the other REDD initiatives in Indonesia) will do or say anything to stop the destruction of Aceh’s forests is another matter. If the Aceh government were allocating new concessions in areas of primary forest, then it would be in breach of the moratorium under the Indonesia-Norway deal. But if the forest is secondary, or the concessions existed before the moratorium came into effect, then the Indonesia-Norway deal has nothing to say. In any case there are no real sanctions under the moratorium. And in a few week’s time the moratorium is set to expire.
The Letter of Intent makes no mention of free, prior and informed consent, but does include the following principle on participation:
Give all relevant stakeholders, including indigenous peoples, local communities and civil society, subject to national legislation, and, where applicable,
international instruments, the opportunity of full and effective participation in REDD+ planning and implementation.
Efendi, a spokesperson for the Coalition of people Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA),explains that the spatial plan has been produced without consultation with local communities and NGOs:
“Despite our best efforts, communities and NGOs have been completely excluded from the development process of the new spatial plan, which has totally lacked transparency and accountability.”
One “success story” of the Indonesia-Norway deal is the fact that the maps showing the moratorium area are publicly available. AMAN, Indonesia’s indigenous peoples alliance, is attempting using this “One Map” policy as an opportunity to promote its initiative of mapping indigenous territory. In November 2012, 265 maps of indigenous peoples land were handed to the REDD+ Task Force, with a request that these maps be included in the official “One Map”.
But even this “One Map” policy is not a complete success. Down To Earth commented recently that,
[W]hen DTE tried to access some of the maps mid-February  many of the map layers were not accessible and there was not an obvious means of accessing information about, say, mining and oil and gas concessions. This information is also not accessible via the most obvious place – the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry website. In contrast, there is a whole wealth of maps publicly available via the Forestry Ministry’s website, including archives as well as the moratorium maps in all four versions.
Earlier this month, Norway’s Ambassador, Stig Traavik, visited Central Kalimantan. On itswebsite, the Norwegian Embassy explains that the purpose of the visit was “to observe progresses on REDD+ preparation and implementation in the REDD+ Pilot Province”. Of course, the Embassy makes no mention of the problems with the Australian-funded Kalimantan Forest Climate Project, or the vast (and increasing) area of oil palm plantations in the province.
Neither does the Embassy refer to the fact that the Letter of Intent refers to a second province-wide pilot which “could be chosen by late 2011 and implemented by early 2012″. Of course, this has not happened. Along with many other things that were agreed under the Indonesia-Norway deal. In an recent statement, Greenpeace Indonesia comments that,
[L]ittle progress has been made so far on the moratorium and the key outputs agreed as part of the US$1 bn Indonesia-Norway forest protection deal; the establishment of the REDD Agency, and the financial and monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) institutions, have not yet been achieved. The main roadblocks to more progress have been poor governance, outdated maps and data, the lack of clear social and environmental safeguards and the definition of degraded land.
Indonesia has several REDD initiatives running in parallel. There’s the US$1 billion Indonesia-Norway REDD deal. The World Bank has its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and Forest Investment Programme. Then there’s the UN Office for REDD+ Coordination in Indonesia (the replacement for the UN-REDD Indonesia programme, that closed its office in January 2013). But will any of them attempt to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in Aceh?
March 22, 2013
A group of biologists and conservation scientists meeting in Sumatra warned that potential changes to Aceh’s spatial plan could undermine some of the ecological services that underpin the Indonesian province’s economy and well-being of its citizens. After its meeting from March 18-22 in Banda Aceh, the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) issued a declaration [PDF] highlighting the importance of the region’s tropical forest ecosystem, which is potentially at risk due to proposed changes to its spatial plan or system of land-use zoning.
Under the new spatial plan, more than 150,000 hectares of previously protected forest land would be given over for logging and conversion to plantations. Nearly a million hectares of mining exploration licenses would be granted.
One concern is that some concessions are located in steep watersheds that sustain lowland rice production. Another worry, highlighted by environmental groups, is that substantial blocks of surviving lowland habitats for orangutans would be put up for logging and oil palm plantations, putting the critically endangered species at increased risk. Aceh is one the only place on Earth where orangutans, rhinos, tigers, and elephants can be found living in the same forest.
The ATBC resolution notes some of these concerns. “Aceh forests are essential for food security, regulating water flows in both the monsoon and drought seasons to irrigate rice fields and other cash crops,” states the declaration. “Forest disruption in Aceh’s upland areas will increase the risk of destructive flooding for people living downstream in the coastal lowlands.”
ATBC says that the proposed spatial plan “will elevate the risk of serious local environmental problems, a loss of key nature hydrological functions, and serious disruption of lowland river systems and fisheries, which could negatively affect human livelihoods and biodiversity.” It adds that “further conversion of lowland forest will increase conflicts between people and surviving wild elephants, posing a significant threat to farming livelihoods.”
The group, which is the largest association of tropical conservation scientists, therefore recommended that Aceh’s spatial plan “be based on the extensive, high-quality spatial data that are available within the Government of Aceh agencies, especially maps on watershed forest areas, environmental risk, soil types, geological hazards, human population centers, rainfall and the distribution of Aceh’s wildlife.” It also called for action against illegal logging, forest conservation, and road construction.
ATBC-Asia urged the Aceh government to adopt an economic development model that “prioritizes clean development and payments for environmental services, while limiting unsustainable natural resource extraction.
Aceh has the most extensive forest cover of any province in Sumatra. It has had a moratorium on logging since 2007, although the new spatial plan would effectively end the logging ban.
- Sciencists urged to stand up for Aceh’s biodiversity (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)