Indonesian governors agree to protect Sumatra's endangered forests


mongabay.com; October 9, 2008

The ten governors of Sumatra — along with four federal ministers — have signed an agreement to protect forests and other ecosystems on the Indonesian island, according to WWF. The announcement is significant because Sumatra is a biodiversity hotspot — home to rare and endemic wildlife — that is under great threat from logging and expansion oil palm plantations. The island has lost 48 percent of its forest cover since 1985.

"This agreement commits all the Governors of Sumatra's ten provinces, along with the Indonesian Ministries of Forestry, Environment, Interior and Public Works, to restore critical ecosystems in Sumatra and protect areas with high conservation values," said Hermien Roosita, Deputy Minister of Environment. "The Governors will now work together to develop ecosystem-based spatial plans that will serve as the basis for future development on the island."

Protecting Sumatra's environment will help combat climate change. More than 13 percent of the island's remaining forest cover consists of carbon-rich peat forest, which stores several times the amount of carbon as conventional rainforest.

By protecting these forests from deforestation, Sumatra will provide a significant contribution to mitigate global climate change," said Marlis Rahman, Vice Governor of West Sumatra Province.

While the announcement is a positive step for protecting threatened habitats in Sumatra, slowing deforestation will be a challenge. Much of Sumatra's population is reliant on subsistence farming or dependent on jobs in industries that drive large-scale forest destruction, including logging and industrial agriculture. However recent developments in the western province of Aceh may serve as a model for the rest of Sumatra.

Last year Aceh Governor Irwandi Jusuf imposed a province-wide moratorium on logging in hopes that the emerging market for carbon sequestered in forests would offer better long-term prospects for the people of the province. The governor, a former rebel who was one of only 40 survivors after the December 2004 tsunami struck the prison where he was incarcerated, signed an agreement to protect and promote sustainable development in a 750,000-hectare forest reserve that is home to Sumatran elephant, the Clouded Leopard, and the Sumatran Tiger. By preventing logging and conversion of Ulu Masen forest for oil palm plantations, planners expect to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 100 million tons over 30 years. The proceeds — in the form of carbon credits — will help fund health and education projects in the local community.

Deals like the one signed in Aceh are increasingly seen as a way to finance conservation while generating sustainable local livelihoods, but they are dependent on the recognition of forestry as a means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation and land use change account for roughly 20 percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions but currently have no place in international climate agreements. However this is expected to change after the 2009 round of climate talks in Copenhagen. A number of countries, including the U.S. and a coalition of 40 rainforest nations, have signaled that forest conservation must play a critical part in future climate change mitigation schemes.