Indonesian Deforestation Ban Makes Slow Progress

Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest tropical forest and some of the highest carbon emissions from deforestation, is halfway through a two-year suspension on the issuing of new permits to clear forests on 65 million hectares of land.

The initiative is part of a US$1-billion deal with Norway to protect the South East Asian nation’s forest and cut the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 per cent by the year 2020.

It puts Indonesia’s efforts to conserve its forests a step ahead of those taken by most other heavily forested nations. But as increasingly accurate forest maps and data on clearance permits become available, it is growing clear that the suspension is having little effect on deforestation rates and carbon emissions, and secures a smaller area of forest than was thought.

However, the Indonesian government has confirmed its commitment to its climate-change pledge by extending the protected area and stripping a palm-oil firm of a permit to develop carbon-rich peatland.

“No other country has done anything like this,” says Daniel Murdiyarso, a climate-change scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia.

Norway’s environment minister, Bård Vegar Solhjell, acknowledges the limitations of the suspension.

“We know that the suspension itself is not sufficient to reach the climate mitigation pledged or to stop deforestation in the speed necessary,” he said in a statement.

An analysis from CIFOR, published last October, found that 42.5 million hectares of forest covered by the suspension are already protected under Indonesian law, with only 22.5 million hectares receiving extra protection.

Director of the Global Forest Initiative at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank based in Washington DC Nigel Sizer said, the Indonesian government’s priority for the second and final year of the ban must be to continue to improve forest monitoring and governance of forest-clearance permits.

“This will determine if Indonesia can stop deforestation,” he said.

Sizer welcomed the government’s move to retract a permit awarded to Kallista Alam, an Indonesian palm-oil company, to develop an area of peatland in the western province of Aceh. The permit had been awarded after the ban was announced.

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