Activists Urge Jokowi to Renew Forest Clearing Ban
Jakarta. Environmental activists have called on President Joko Widodo to extend and strengthen a forest-clearing moratorium that runs out this month.
The moratorium on issuing permits to clear peat and primary forests was introduced in May 2011 by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and slated to run for only two years. Yudhoyono extended it in 2013 on a temporary basis, and activists say Joko now has the chance to make a lasting positive impact by giving the moratorium a firmer legal basis.
Any extension to the moratorium “must stipulate punitive measures for people or companies that violate it,” Zenzi Suhadi, a forest campaigner for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, or Walhi, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.
“This is needed to curb [the illegal] issuance of licenses for forest exploitation, whether for mining or for large-scale plantations,” he added.
He noted that the moratorium as enforced by the Yudhoyono administration was for all practical intents toothless, noting that the Forestry Ministry issued mining and agriculture concessions for 12 million hectares of forest land, much of it ostensibly off-limits under the moratorium, between 2011 and 2014.
“During this period, there was no punishment for the violators,” Zenzi said. “The next moratorium should include punitive measures to ensure that no one hurts the environment.”
He also said it was important that the moratorium be supported by a new agency “to supervise its implementation as well as enforce the law.”
“The government must consider extending the moratorium period. It’s been proven that a two-year moratorium isn’t as effective as expected.
Making it longer will help the government prioritize its to-do list, from evaluation to license review to management refinement,” Zenzi added.
The original moratorium was enacted as part of a deal that would see Norway provide up to $1 billion in funds for climate change mitigation projects in exchange for demonstrable protection on Indonesia’s part of high conservation value forests, including peat forests, which store enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.
Critics, though, have long argued that the moratorium does far too little to protect such areas, given that it applies only to new concessions and not to existing ones on peat and primary forests.
In the time since the moratorium went into force, nearly 970,000 hectares of peat forest have been cleared, half of that total coming from the heavily logged Sumatran provinces of Riau and Jambi, according to a study by Walhi and environmental nongovernmental organization Kemitraan.
The study also found that in some regions, up to four-fifths of the primary and peat forests identified as off-limits for new concessions are already protected under prevailing zoning regulations, hence the moratorium is doing little to expand the scope of forest protection.
Progressive revisions have also seen the map of areas protected under the moratorium shrink, with dozens of concessions issued across the country for land that was at one point included in the moratorium map, says Hasbi Berliani, Kemitraan’s program manager for good governance.
The forest area that falls outside the moratorium map “is really wide.”
“It is really crucial for the government to strengthen [a] few points in the moratorium to protect other areas [that] haven’t been included within. As long as the moratorium doesn’t include it, it’s useless,” Hasbi said.
Zenzi echoed the sentiment, saying that what Indonesia really needed was not a moratorium on new concessions, but a termination program for existing licenses.
“The situation is critical,” Zenzi said, noting that when the moratorium was renewed in 2013, it included new concessions for energy and food production, thanks to what he called corporate lobbying. “This cost the country 1.2 million hectares.”
“This year, there’s the possibility of intervention from the biofuel and food lobbies, and exemptions for border regions,” Zenzi added.
Strong government commitment, he said, was key to an effective moratorium.
“However big the intervention, once the government is committed to the people, it won’t compromise or make any exceptions unless it’s in the interests of the people,” Zenzi said.
The Forestry and Environment Ministry says it wants to extend the moratorium as part of a wider program to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent by 2020, and has welcomed suggestions of environmental groups in drafting an extension.
Edited by Hayat Indriyatno
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Source: The Jakarta Globe