Is Indonesia’s “moratorium” worth the paper it’s written on?

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Is Indonesia's moratorium worth the paper it's written on? PHOTO: EIA/Telepak

“It’s important to remember the moratorium is not primarily about what won’t take place during that two year-period, e.g. halting conversion of forest for economic development. Much more significant is what will take place during that same timeframe.” That’s Aida Greenbury of Asia Pulp and Paper welcoming the moratorium that finally came into effect last week in Indonesia.

I’m not sure that Greenbury really meant to write, “halting conversion of forest for economic development,” as an example of what won’t be happening under the two year moratorium. If so, at least she’s being honest. As journalist Angela Dewan writes on New Matilda, “You know that something’s not quite right when one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies celebrates a ban on deforestation.” Which is a good point, particularly when the company involved has a record as destructive as that of APP – and one that recently managed to underestimate its carbon footprint by a factor of somewhere between 550 and 700.

But the moratorium was never intended to be a “ban on deforestation”. As set out in the Letter of Intent signed by Norway and Indonesia in May 2010, the moratorium is part of Phase 2 of the Indonesia-Norway cooperation on REDD, which is to “be initiated in January 2011, with a shared aspiration to complete it by the end of 2013.”

The aim of Phase 2 is “to make Indonesia ready for the Contributions-for-Verified Emission Reduction Phase while also initiating large scale mitigation action.” The Letter of Intent includes the following requirements:

“Identify, develop and implement appropriate Indonesia-wide policy instruments and enforcement capabilities, including but not necessarily limited to:

    i. A two year suspension on all new concessions for conversion of peat and natural forest.

    ii. Establish a degraded lands database, starting in one or more appropriate provinces, to facilitate the establishment of economic activity on such lands rather than converted peatland or natural forests.

    iii. Enforce existing laws against illegal logging and trade in timber and related forest crimes and set up a special unit to tackle the problem.

    iv. Take appropriate measures to address land tenure conflicts and compensation claims.

So the moratorium is one of four activities that Indonesia is supposed to carry out. Points iii and iv could, in theory at least, mean that some existing concessions could be revoked on the grounds that they are illegal or that they are generating land tenure conflicts. As World Resources Institute notes,

Oil palm plantation projects face high risk of costly social conflict due to land tenure issues. This is especially a problem on degraded lands which tend to have more claims than forested areas.

The inclusion of a map in the presidential instruction is intriguing, since no degraded lands database exists yet. By illustrating which forest is excluded from the moratorium (and therefore which forest is open for clearcutting and converting to oil palm or industrial tree plantations), the map appears to supersede the degraded lands database.

The indicative map clearly shows how little forest is actually covered by the moratorium, especially bearing in mind that the moratorium is only applicable for two years. The map shows primary forest in green and peatland in red (click on the map for a larger version):

It’s interesting to compare this map with the map produced by Greenpeace, to show how much forest is at risk as a result of the moratorium, coloured red on the map. Dark grey is already protected forest and light grey is peatland more than four metres deep. The black colour indicates forest that is protected by the moratorium (click on the map for a larger version):

When Greenpeace produced these maps, the moratorium was still in draft form. Greenpeace noted that,

These visualizations of the draft moratorium show that it fails to cover the majority of vulnerable forests that provide habitat to orang-utans, tigers and other endangered species, as it does little to protect forests that are not already off limits under Indonesia’s existing laws. It must be strengthened to provide real protection to rainforests and the lives that depend on them.

There are also some serious mistakes in the indicative map issued with the presidential instruction. Not only is secondary forest not shown on the map, some national parks are omitted or shown only partially. For example, Bukit Tigapuluh and Tesso Nilo, two national parks in Sumatra, seem to have disappeared entirely. The presidential instruction states that the Ministry of Forestry is to revise the indicative map every six months – which is either good news (they could, in theory, correct the mistakes), or a recipe for disaster, depending on your opinion of the Ministry of Forestry’s mapping capabilities.

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One Comment

  1. Yes, it is outrageous that not even Tesso Nilo, the last lowland primary forest block left on Sumatra, is excluded from the moratorium. I am suspicious of its omission, which is worrisome because Tesso Nilo, supposedly protected by a national park, is fast shrinking, being given over to squatters and loggers – and in urgent need of adequate protection.

    Even Bukit Tigapulah is also left out, which does not make any sense. It is very important that this forest be left alone, as a last refuge for vital species.

    Indonesia could go a long way by just saying it will keep all protected areas intact regardless of forest status and just enforce the law, because that’s what they are supposed to be doing anyway and since there is very little forest left in non-protected areas anyway.

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