New CIFOR report points out the flaws in Indonesia’s forest moratorium

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New CIFOR report points out the flaws in Indonesia's forest moratorium

There is much to criticise in Indonesia’s moratorium on new forestry concessions. Many of these criticisms have been put forward in previous posts on REDD-Monitor (here, here and here). A recent briefing from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) points out serious flaws with the moratorium and then makes suggestions for improving it.

CIFOR’s report can be downloaded here: “Indonesia’s forest moratorium: A stepping stone to better forest governance?” (pdf file 1.6 MB).


UPDATE – 16 November 2011:The report is also available in Indonesian: “Moratorium hutan Indonesia: Batu loncatan untuk memperbaiki tata kelola hutan?” (pdf file 1.0 MB).


The moratorium was produced as a Presidential Instruction (Inpres) issued on 20 May 2011. An unofficial translation is available here. This is a non-legislative document, which means that “there are no legal consequences if its instructions are not implemented”, as CIFOR notes. No matter what the moratorium states, there are no legal sanctions against breaches of the moratorium.

The Presidential Instruction makes no mention of either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. CIFOR comments that “The limited application of the moratorium to activity in these sectors could potentially weaken the government’s ability to fulfil the intention of the Inpres itself, as well as the President’s own commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” A cynic might point out that this is a diplomatic way of saying that the moratorium isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

Perhaps the most egregious problem with the moratorium is that it applies only to “primary natural forest”, despite the fact that the words “natural forest” were used in Norway’s 2010 Letter of Intent. CIFOR’s report notes that “[T]he term ‘primary natural forest’ has never previously been used in Indonesian forestry policy.” Hadi Daryanto, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Forestry, told CIFOR that “primary natural forest” is meant to imply that no licence applying to the area has ever been issued. The definition appears to have nothing to do with the ecological importance of the forests or even the amount of carbon stored in the forest. It is simply forest that hasn’t (yet) been handed out for destruction.

Based on a Forest Designation Map produced by the Ministry of Forestry in 2009, CIFOR states that the total area of forested land in Indonesia in that year was 91.9 million hectares. It seems that the Ministry of Forestry has not produced forest cover statistics since 2009. Of the total area of forest land in 2009, 45.2 million hectares was primary forest and much of this area is already protected under existing laws. CIFOR assumes that the remaining 46.7 million hectares was secondary forest. “Secondary forests have higher carbon stocks than oil palm or fibre plantations,” CIFOR notes. “In most cases, they also have greater biodiversity.” In other words, secondary forests are also worth protecting.

The moratorium covers all peatlands. This is an improvement over a previous Ministry of Agriculture regulation (No. 14/Permentan/FL.110/2/2009) that prohibits conversion of peatlands deeper than three metres. CIFOR comments that “Governors and district government heads, who issue the permits for oil palm development, may interpret the Inpres as superseding that ministerial regulation.” CIFOR does not point out that they may well not do so, since the Inpres is not legally binding and does not mention the Ministry of Agriculture.

Using maps from the Ministry of Forestry, Wetlands International and the Indicative Moratorium Map that came with the moratorium, CIFOR calculates that the area “newly covered” under the moratorium (i.e. not already protected) is 22.5 million hectares. Meanwhile, an area of 5.8 million hectares of peatlands (29% of Indonesia’s total area of peatlands) is not covered by the moratorium, probably because of existing concessions issued before the Inpres or because these areas are to be cleared for food or energy projects. A further area of 9.6 million hectares of primary forest (21% of the country’s remaining primary forest) is excluded from the moratorium, most likely because they are under previously granted concessions, “even though in reality they have not yet been disturbed or allocated for activities related to food or energy security,” as CIFOR comments.

One of the problems that CIFOR had in working out the area covered by the moratorium was that current concession maps are not publicly available. CIFOR’s restrained comment is that, “The transparency of the IMM [Indicative Moratorium Map] would be improved if the concession map and the most recent version of the forest designation map were made publicly available.” Indeed.

According to the Ministry of Forestry’s 2009 Forest Designation Map, 47.8 million hectares in Indonesia is conservation area. In 2008, the Ministry of Forestry estimated that about 200,000 hectares of this area was encroached each year. But, as CIFOR notes, “Encroachment can only be addressed by enforcement of existing laws, as it is unlikely that a moratorium with no sanctions for transgression will be more effective.”

The exceptions in the Presidential Instruction undermine the moratorium even further. The following are excluded under Article 2 of the Inpres:

  • Forests covered by applications for concession licenses already “approved in principle” by the Ministry of Forestry.
  • Land needed for “vital” national development projects (geothermal, oil and natural gas, delectricity, rice and sugarcane).
  • Extension of existing licences for forest exploitation and/or forest-area use.

A fourth exception to the moratorium is for “ecosystem restoration”, which CIFOR describes as “quite positive, as it creates a new opportunity to enhance carbon stocks through afforestation/reforestation”. Which suggests that CIFOR has not been paying attention to the difficulties that CDM afforestation and reforestation projects have run into – not least because the definition of “forests” fails to exclude monoculture industrial tree plantations.

CIFOR notes that the amount of carbon stored in forested peatlands can be five to ten times that of forested mineral soils per hectare, depending on the depth of peat. Successfully protecting Indonesia’s peatlands would make a real dent in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. But of Indonesia’s 20.2 million hectares of peatlands, only 4.2 million hectares of the peat covered by the moratorium is under primary forest cover. CIFOR comments that,

Depending on the control of fires and alteration of water regimes of disturbed peatlands, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will continue even if the moratorium limits further degradation of aboveground vegetation.

To make matters worse, non-forested peatlands are at the greatest risk of further degradation, followed by logged-over forest on peat. According research published earlier this year by CIFOR scientists, emissions from the conversion of peatlands into oil palm plantations could be as high as 60 tonnes per hectare per year. But as CIFOR points out, it is far from clear that the moratorium will stop the destruction of Indonesia’s peatlands because, “most peatlands may come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, which is not involved in the implementation of the moratorium”.

CIFOR’s report was funded by the Australian Agency for International Development, the Climate and Land Use Alliance, the Government of Norway and the World Agroforestry Centre, all of which are heavily invested in REDD. Perhaps not surprisingly, CIFOR’s report is not only a critique of the moratorium. It suggests ways forward, for example through improvements to the Indicative Moratorium Maps:

The text of the moratorium states that the IMM will be subject to regular revision. This suggests that the review of existing concession licences and better spatial planning could eventually change the size and secure the area under the moratorium, improve land and forest resources governance and lead to achievement of emission reduction targets.

Of course, the revision of the Indicative Moratorium Maps could have precisely the opposite effect, meaning that the area protected is actually reduced rather than expanded.

In the report’s conclusion, CIFOR looks at peat forest and non-peat forest:

  • Peat forest: “The moratorium sends a clear and strong message about the importance of protecting peatlands in particular.” But, as CIFOR points out, the Inpres imposes no sanctions, (thus making the “clear and strong” message somewhat muffled).
  • Non-peat forest: “The direction provided by the Inpres for non-peat forest can only be described as a missed opportunity.”

Nevertheless, CIFOR remains optimistic that the moratorium can, despite all the problems and exclusions, lead to forest policy reform in Indonesia:

The moratorium should not be viewed simply as a tool to achieve the President’s emission reduction target in the near term. Rather, it should be seen as the means to establish the enabling conditions, specifically to improve forest and peatland governance, necessary to support low carbon development strategies and participation in a global mechanism such as REDD+ in the long run. The moratorium could pave the way for successful policy reform far beyond its 2-year term.

This is a fascinating statement. CIFOR tells us that we should not look at the moratorium in terms of reducing emissions, but as a means of improving forest and peatland governance. Yet CIFOR’s report illustrates clearly that without major changes to the moratorium and the Indicative Moratorium Maps, the moratorium will achieve neither. To its credit CIFOR suggests some of the changes that need to be made but these amount to putting back all the things that were excluded from the moratorium. It remains to be seen whether these suggestions will be implemented.

Strangely, CIFOR does not mention the fact that the Presidential Instruction about the moratorium was delayed by almost five months and that in the intervening period there were several draft versions under consideration. President Yudhoyono had the opportunity to choose a stricter moratorium. He could have made it legally binding. He could have included secondary forests. That he did not do so reveals that improving the moratorium at this stage, while much needed, will not be easy.

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