JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Activists have lauded a decision by Indonesia's president to extend a moratorium on new logging licenses, calling it a historic move in the struggle to save the country's forests and cut carbon emissions. But some experts say the new policy doesn't go far enough and will do little to fix Indonesia's chaotic forest management.
On May 13, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a new presidential instruction, known as the Forest and Peat Land Moratorium. It seeks to protect primary forest and peat land — both major stores of carbon — by suspending the issuing of any new forest-clearing permits.
The two-year moratorium, which serves as an extension of a previous presidential instruction which expired on May 20, is directed at various governmental officials including the ministers of forestry and home affairs and the head of geo-spatial information as well as all of the country's governors and mayors.
Together they oversee the world's third largest tropical forest, home to some of the world’s most endangered species, in a country that is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. And, according to the Ministry of Environment, the forestry industry and the destruction and degradation of peat lands are responsible for around 80 percent of those emissions.
But the problem, say some experts, is a lack of enforcement behind the moratorium. “Why it is just a presidential instruction? There are no sanctions for those who do not comply," says Bambang Hero Saharjo, dean of the forest faculty at Bogor Agricultural University. "Why not use a much more legally binding (policy), such as government regulation or law?"
Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) task force responsible for overseeing the implementation of the new presidential instruction, defends the extension of the moratorium, saying it is the most efficient way to ensure the continuation of the policy.
“It’s about being practical," he says. "It will take longer to process a legally binding policy."
Mangkusubroto says the instruction can be used to tackle the management issues that Saharjo and other critics point to. Besides continuing its work on integrating all of the varied — and sometimes conflicting — maps of Indonesia’s forests and peat lands currently being used by different ministries and institutions, he says the task force is preparing to launch a REDD+ agency, which will focus on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation as a part of Indonesia’s commitment to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2020.
"The most important thing is to fix how we manage our forestry sector," he says.
One of the moratorium's goals may be to reduce emissions, but according to Nyoman N. Suryadiputra, director of the Wetlands International Indonesia Program (WIIP), that is not working because the restrictions affect only new permits. “Previous permits are still in effect and still (causing) emissions,” he says.
Experts say Indonesia has approximately 25 million hectares of peat land, nearly half of it already degraded. Based on WIIP findings, in 2011 alone, another 3.5 million hectares of peat land was converted into oil palm plantations, Suryadiputra says. The program estimates that peat degradation and losses will result in emissions of 735 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020.
That figure is far higher than the 560 million tons projected by Indonesia’s National Action Plan on Greenhouse Gas Emissions. “And that’s only emissions from peat lands and palm oil," Suryadiputra says. "We have yet to talk about (emissions resulting from) forest fires or other land-use changes.”
EVALUATING THE IMPACT
However Hermono Sigit, assistant deputy at the environment ministry's department of Inland Water Ecosystem Damage Control, says the moratorium has helped protect Indonesia's peat lands by spurring on the creation of stronger legislation.
"The Ministry of Environment is finalising government regulation on peat lands management, which includes water management, rehabilitation and restoration efforts,” he says. He explained that the regulation had been drafted several years ago but was stuck in policymaking limbo until the moratorium was passed in 2011.
Now with the moratorium keeping the number of land-clearing permits constant, the ministry can better evaluate the impact the existing permits have on carbon dioxide emissions, Sigit said.
Yuyu Rahayu, director of inventory and monitoring of forest resources at the Forestry Ministry, also applauds the moratorium, saying it has helped cut the deforestation rate from 1.125 million hectares per year in 2000-2005 to around 450,000 hectares per year in 2009-2011.
But forestry expert Saharjo slams the claim that the moratorium has had any impact, since by the time it was implemented in 2011 the rate of deforestation was already in decline.
He says that for real change to happen, the new moratorium needs to broaden its reach and cover not only logging, but other sectors that contribute to forest and peat land destruction, such as mining and farming.
"The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture should fall under the instruction because those two commodities overlap with forestry and cause many problems," he says. "Without sitting down with those two institutions, it will be difficult to sort out solutions for our forests."
Fidelis E Satriastanti, based in Jakarta, writes on climate change and environmental issues.