Environmentalists say moratorium on forest conversion an empty promise

Jakarta Globe: February 18 2011: Fidelis E. Satriastanti

Green activists said on Wednesday that the government’s much-hyped plan for a moratorium on new logging concessions would only apply to forests that were already protected in the first place.

The two-year moratorium on new concessions in peatland and primary forests is part of a bilateral agreement with Norway, in exchange for which Indonesia will receive $1 billion in funding for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD-plus) activities.

In order for the moratorium to be legally binding from its Jan. 1 start date, it must be backed by a presidential decree, which has yet to be issued.

The Civil Society Organization Common Platform, comprising the groups Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law and Sawit Watch, a palm oil industry watchdog, said even if enforced, the government’s claim that the moratorium would protect more forested areas was blatantly false.

“The government lied about the moratorium, because based on a map [of the affected forest areas], only 41 million hectares will be protected, but these are already categorized as conservation and protected areas,” said Teguh Surya, head of international liaison and climate justice at Walhi.

“[The moratorium] will be useless, because even without it, [those forests] are automatically protected anyway.”

There are two versions of the draft presidential decree, one submitted by the Forestry Ministry and the other by the presidentially appointed REDD task force.

The ministry’s version states the moratorium should apply only to primary forests and peatlands, while the task force’s version says secondary forests in peat areas should also be included.

The CSO’s newly released “Indicative Indonesian Moratorium Map” shows there are 32.9 million hectares of primary forest, 6.5 million hectares of non-forest peatland and 2.4 million hectares of secondary peat forest, all protected under prevailing regulations.

Kiki Taufik, a geographic information specialist with Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said both versions offered the same thing, though their wording differed.

“It’s just a name game between the two drafts,” he said. “The ministry wants to save primary forests and peatland, but doesn’t specify what type of peatland. Meanwhile, the task force states it wants to protect primary forests, secondary forests and peatland, but the secondary forests it wants covered are only those in peat areas, so there’s no difference.”

He said the CSO wanted the moratorium to extend to all secondary forests, which account for the remaining 95 million hectares of the country’s forests.

Abetnego Tarigan, director of Sawit Watch, said almost all forested areas in the country were logging areas and categorized as secondary forests.

“The government doesn’t take into consideration a forest’s ability to recover on its own, so there are plenty of areas that have recovered but are still considered secondary forests,” he said.

“This is also why logging permits can be issued for these areas, because they’re still secondary forests even though they’ve recovered.”

Abetnego said incorporating secondary forests into the plan would not paralyze the industry.

“Those protesting about including secondary forests in the moratorium are from the extractive industries, such as mining and monoculture [plantations] because they need to cut down all the trees,” he said.

He also said businesses should fully support a moratorium because it would provide an opportunity to fix the complicated system for issuing concessions.

“It costs them a lot to get permits now, where you have several regulations overlapping one another,” Abetnego said.

“It’s completely wrong to say that we’d lose trillions as a result of the moratorium, because the truth is natural resources aren’t a creative industry but a basic industry. It’s not like software, which needs to be put into use as soon as possible. If we don’t use our natural resources, we can hold on to them for the future.”


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