Indonesia’s Moratorium on Deforestation

In May this year, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono released Presidential Instruction no. 6/2013, instructing for a two-year extension to a ban on clearing 158 hectares of primary rainforests and peatland. This extends the original two-year moratorium on deforestation that was declared on May 2011 (Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011), under a $1 billion deal with Norway to incentivise forest protection in Indonesia as part of the UN-REDD Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. The ban preserves about 50% of Indonesia’s primary forests, in an attempt to reduce the country’s carbon emissions, up to 85% of which have been traced to the clearing and draining of carbon-rich peatland, mostly related to plantation development. This agreement was to ‘pause’ business-as-usual development to give time for the government to establish a degraded land database[1], to provide the necessary information to identify areas of land acceptable for the establishment of economic activity, especially oil palm plantations.

The Indonesian palm oil industry has long opposed this moratorium. The Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Producers (GAPKI) lamented that producers stand to lose more than gain from the moratorium. Palm oil producers have pointed out contradictions between the moratorium and the governmental goals for continued expansion of the sector to reach a CPO output of 40 million tonnes per year by 2020. They have argued that in order for these goals to be achieved, companies ‘had no choice’ but to continue establishing plantations on restricted areas. However, despite the stringent opposition from the palm oil lobby, the President went ahead with this second two-year moratorium.

While this can be taken as a positive sign of Indonesia’s commitment to deforestation and reducing carbon emissions, environmentalists have identified several inherent weaknesses in the moratorium that remain unchanged in this second ban. Firstly, this ‘Presidential Instruction’ is a non-legislative document, meaning that there are no legal consequences if the moratorium is not implemented. Hence, this instruction has not been able to stop permits from being issued at the local level. This was the circumstances behind a high-profile case in Aceh recently where the Governor, Irwandi Yusof was found to have breached the ban by issuing a permit to palm oil firm Kallista Alam to open 1,605 hectares of peatland for palm oil development.

Secondly, several loopholes remain within the ban that is to the benefit of oil palm companies. The moratorium only applies to primary, and not secondary forests. Greenpeace claims that this has triggered the Ministry of Forestry to change forest functions in certain areas to allow for development, i.e. from protected forest to production forest, and from forest area to non-forest area. Furthermore, this moratorium does not affect areas where concessions were granted (or received approval in principle) before the moratorium. The moratorium also does not restrict applications for the extension of any existing permits to neighbouring lands.

Thirdly, the continued delay of the REDD+ Agency that was supposed to have been set up by the end of last year continues to place the inferior REDD+ Task Force in charge of overseeing the moratorium. The Task Force has no power to review forest legislation or look into systemic problems of corruption and law enforcement, which has been identified by environmentalists as a reason behind continued exploitation of forests within protected areas. Therefore, it remains to be seen if this second moratorium will result in meaningful protection of Indonesia’s forests and sustainable development of Indonesia’s palm oil industry.

In order to address some of these loopholes, both the Indonesian government and palm oil producers have been supportive of a suggested voluntary land swap mechanism under the REDD programme, where holders of existing permits in primary forest areas or deep peat lands can swap these lands with degraded lands, and be compensated according to the size of the concession. However, progress had been slow due to the complexities of competing and overlapping bureaucracies and unclear land titles. Other ways to address this would be to encourage replanting, supported by research and development to produce high oil palm yields on replanted land, as compared to the current focus of expansion of new lands for planting.

References

Varkkey, H., 2013. Oil Palm Plantations and Transboundary Haze: Patronage Networks and Land Licensing in Indonesia’s Peatlands. Wetlands, 33, 679-690.

Butler, R.A., Lian, P.K. & Ghazoul, J., 2009. REDD in the red: Palm oil could undermine carbon payment scheme. Conservations Letters, 2, 67-73.

Newspaper articles, commentary on official NGO Websites, the official site for Norway in Indonesia, and interviews with environmentalists


[1] This database is meant to tie in with Indoensia’s integrated map system (One Map) project led by the REDD+ Task Force, one of the efforts identified as vital to better manage peat and forest fires that result in transboundary haze pollution.

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