Aerial view forest fire and smoke Java, Indonesia. (Image by Alexpukner / Shutterstock.com)

Greenpeace dismisses permanent forest clearance moratorium by Indonesian President as inadequate, says deforestation has doubled despite moratoriums

Indonesian Minister of Forestry and Environment Siti Nurbaya Bakar announced on Thursday (8 August) that President Joko Widodo has issued a permanent moratorium on new forest clearance for the purposes of palm plantations, logging, and other activities.

The moratorium, which was first introduced in 2011, covers about 66 million hectares (254,827 square miles) of peatlands and primary forests. It has been regularly renewed as part of the country’s efforts in reducing emissions from deforestation fires.

“The president signed an instruction on stopping new permits and improving primary forest and peatland governance,” Mdm Siti Nurbaya said in a statement. She added that the presidential instruction signed on 5 August mandates that ministers, governors, and other government officials are prohibited from issuing new permits within the moratorium area.

According to Greenpeace, the deforestation rate in Indonesia is one of the highest in the world at over 74 million hectares (285,700 square miles) of rainforest being logged, burned, or experienced degradation in the last 50 years. That’s an area of nearly double the size of Japan.

The decision to issue a permanent moratorium follows a declaration of emergency in six provinces on Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo where smoke from forest fires have begun to cause acute respiratory infections.

Air pollution in Central Kalimantan was getting so bad that the authorities were forced to restrict school hours, according to Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Arie Rompas.

Moratoriums are ineffective

While the moratorium might seem like it would be a welcomed move, Mr Rompas was quoted by Reuters as saying that it still does not provide adequate protection for the remaining tropical forests in Indonesia in the long run, lamenting the lack of punishment and loopholes in current regulations.

“The policy should not be via a presidential instruction because it is the weakest among legal instruments,” he chided.

According to data from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment, the area mapped out for the moratorium was decreased from 69.1 million hectares previously to the now 66.1 million hectares.

The Greenpeace campaigner said, “If it’s a permanent one, changing the map should not be allowed anymore.” He added that Greenpeace discovered permits for logging, mining, palm-oil and pulp wood was granted on the 1.6 million hectares from the original moratorium.

As Indonesia announced this permanent moratorium yesterday, Greenpeace revealed that more than a million hectares inside the moratorium area have been burned between 2015-2018 as a result of forest fires.

According to their mapping analysis, Greenpeace said “1.2 million hectares of forest has been lost inside moratorium areas in the seven years since it was first introduced, at an average annual rate of 137,000 ha per year. In the seven years before the moratorium was introduced the annual average deforestation rate was 97,000 ha per year.”

So since the moratoriums, the deforestation rate has more than doubled – exactly what the moratoriums were supposed to curb.

Said Kiki Taufik, Global Head of Greenpeace Southeast Asia forests campaign, “The Indonesia forests moratorium is a good example of government propaganda on forest conservation. It sounds impressive but doesn’t deliver real change on the ground. Deforestation and forest fires have continued inside moratorium areas and boundary maps get regularly redrawn to remove forest or peat areas that are of interest to plantation companies. Making it permanent doesn’t fix its fundamental weaknesses and won’t stop forest and peatland degradation in Indonesia.”