Indonesia preserves tropical forests at highest rate in three decades
One third of the world’s tropical rainforests are found in Indonesia. These forests are home to native tribes, birds, gibbons, rhinos, leopards and tigers. Fortunately, current protections help these vital forests thrive.
The administration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo has recorded four consecutive years of declining deforestation thanks to land use reforms and the reinstatement of a moratorium on logging. This important work culminated in 2020 when the country hit its lowest deforestation rate since monitoring began, reaching a 75% year-over-year decline.
Prior to this moratorium, Indonesia was open for business to anyone looking to open a plantation. The country is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a commodity used in a wide range of everyday products, from soap, shampoos and deodorants, to lipstick, nuts, bread, to margarine and even ice cream.
Palm oil is the world’s most consumed and productive vegetable oil, producing ten times more oil per hectare than soybeans. However, much of this production has come at the expense of forests, greenery, and indigenous and community lands cleared and replaced by large industrial plantations.
In 2018, President Joko Widodo, elected in 2014, declared a moratorium on new permits for palm oil plantations, combined with record prices for the product to slow its once persistent progression. The suspension, which became permanent in 2019, addresses widespread concerns about environmental violations, labor rights violations and land disputes within the palm oil industry.
Half of Indonesia’s 17,500 islands are currently covered with peatlands, forests, swamps or mangroves. According to the FAO, 52.1% (about 94,432,000 ha) of Indonesia is forested; of this total, 50.0% (47,236,000) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-rich form of forest that exists. In these regions are incredible and iconic animals that depend on forests for their survival. These include:
- The Komodo dragon in Komodo
- Orangutan in Sumatra
- Rhinos in Java
- Starlings in Bali
- The dwarf buffalo on Sulawesi
- Sunda’s clouded leopard over Kalimantan
Recent policies have given hope that the country can restore its remaining forests, protect its habitat and reduce emissions on par with its commitments to the Paris Agreement. These policies included returning 30 million acres (12 million hectares) to Indigenous governance, increased sanctions and enforcement of environmental laws, wildfire mitigation strategies, etc.
Ruandha Agung Suhardiman, the ministry’s director general of planning, told Mongabay:
This decrease in deforestation shows that the various efforts made by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in recent times have produced significant results. Their impact on reducing deforestation is enormous.
The Norwegian government supports this positive change in reforestation practices. Almost ten years after signing an agreement that would compensate government agencies if they reduced forest loss, Norway sent the first installment of a € 1 billion (around $ 1.2 billion US) to Indonesia. “This is a big deal because it reflects the fact that Indonesia has crossed (a turning point), and this is great news for all of us,” Director Oyvind Eggen of Rainforest Foundation Norway told Reuters.
The moratorium is due to expire on September 19. However, last week Indonesian activists and officials called for the renewal of the ban on issuing new licenses for oil palm plantations. With less than three weeks of the end of the moratorium, the government has yet to announce whether or not it will extend it. However, that looks promising as senior officials have also called for him to stay in place.
Alue Dohong, Deputy Minister of Environment and Forestry, points out that the sustainability aspect of the moratorium contributes to Indonesia’s long-term goal of reducing GHG emissions. Indeed, Indonesia’s main source of emissions is land-use change and deforestation, unlike most major emitters, where transmission and power generation account for most of the emissions.
The Indonesian government has set an admirable goal of turning the country’s forests into net carbon sinks by 2030 by slowing deforestation, planting more trees and becoming carbon neutral by 2070. “It is therefore relevant to continue the moratorium to achieve the goal of the net sink by 2030, ”said Alue.
Environmentalists warn that “not extending” the moratorium will have dire consequences for Indonesia’s remaining rainforests and all species living among their lush canopies.