Scientists convening at the annual Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) meeting in Sanur, Bali urged Indonesia’s leaders to strengthen measures to protect the country’s biologically-rich ecosystems.
In a resolution issued on the final day of the five-day conference, ATBC commended Indonesia for recent moves to protect forests, including a pledge to cut illegal logging and a billion dollar partnership with Norway to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, but asked the government to immediately implement a planned moratorium on new forestry concessions on peatlands and primary forest lands. The moratorium, which is part of the partnership with Norway, is scheduled to go into effect in 2011, but environmentalists fear the delay provides a window for large-scale granting of sensitive for lands to plantation developers and loggers.
The resolution also urges the government to “ensure that any further expansion of plantations is restricted to lands without standing forests”, asks for a review of all existing concessions in natural forest areas to assess the impact of conversion on biodiversity and climate, calls for safeguards to protect rights of forest people, and recommends reinstatement of the 2007 ban on peat forest clearing that was rescinded in 2009. Noting that forest fires increased 59 percent between 2008 and 2009, the resolution urges authorities to step up efforts to monitor and fight land-clearing fires.
Draining and clearing of peat forest in Central Kalimantan (May 2009). Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
“No nation on Earth is losing forest faster than Indonesia—at a rate of roughly 1.5 million hectares a year,” said Frans Bongers, President of the ATBC, in a statement. “This is one of the most serious environmental threats we face anywhere.”
Deforestation and degradation of peatlands and forests accounts for the bulk of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions and present a major threat to its biodiversity, which on an area-adjusted scale ranks the highest of any country on Earth. Several of Indonesia’s best known and most charismatic species—including orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran rhinos and tigers—have suffered precipitous population declines as a result of habitat loss. Today logging and establishment of timber and oil palm plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia.
But there are signs of hope. Indonesia recently announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 41 percent by projected 2020 levels provided it receive support for the international community. Accordingly, Norway, the United States, and Australia have now committed substantial sums to get the process underway. Billions of dollars could come in the form of compensation for reducing deforestation and degradation under the proposed REDD mechanism. Supporters say REDD offers the potential to make forest conservation an economically viable form of land use in some areas as well as ease the transition to a low carbon economy.
Rainforest in Sulawesi
The ATBC resolution recognizes this progress, applauding the government’s initial efforts to increase transparency in the forestry sector, control illegal logging, and establish an independent forest monitoring body.
“It’s especially encouraging that illegal logging in Indonesia–which has been rampant in the last decade–is finally starting to decline,” William Laurance, co-chair of the ATBC Conservation Committee, told mongabay.com.
“In framing the Bali Declaration we’ve tried to highlight the positive things happening in Indonesia today, as well as the challenges,” he continued, noting that the timber and oil palm lobbies are already lining up to oppose some of the proposed conservation measures. “Wouldn’t it be remarkable if President Yudhoyono could sharply slow forest disruption in Indonesia, despite all the challenges he’ll face? I think he’d be regarded as a global hero for this.”
THE BALI DECLARATION
Unequivocal Support for Recent Forest-Conservation Initiatives in Indonesia
Whereas, the Republic of Indonesia sustains some of the richest biological and cultural diversity of any nation on Earth, distributed across an archipelago of over 17,000 islands that span both the Asian and Australasian biogeographic regions; and
Whereas, a great many Indonesian species are confined to just one or a few nearby islands, and therefore occur nowhere else on earth; and
Whereas, biologists are still encountering many species in Indonesia that are entirely new to science, indicating that much of the nation’s biodiversity is yet to be discovered and that the conservation status and distribution of many other species are poorly known; and
Whereas, the high pace of forest destruction in Indonesia, averaging some 2-2.5 million hectares annually from 1996 to 2005, has led to the degradation, fragmentation, and loss of critical ecosystems and livelihoods, especially in species-rich lowland forests, as a result of unsustainable logging, land conversion, forest fires, overharvesting, and other environmental stresses; and
Whereas, forest loss and degradation has imperiled many Indonesian animal and plant species, including over 100 mammal species classified by the IUCN as being threatened or endangered, such as the Javan and Sumatran Rhinoceros, Asian Elephant, Tiger, and Orangutan; and
Whereas, the rapid destruction and degradation of forests, peat swamps, wetlands, and other habitats is also a major source of atmospheric carbon emissions, contributing significantly to global warming and climatic change.
Therefore, be it resolved that the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world’s largest scientific organization devoted to the study and wise use of tropical ecosystems, on the occasion of its 2010 International Meeting in Bali, Indonesia: