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Lack of clarity complicates Indonesia’s logging moratorium

Lack of clarity makes it difficult to assess whether Indonesia’s moratorium on new logging concessions in primary forest areas and peatlands will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, according to a new comprehensive assessment [PDF] of the instruction issued last week by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The analysis, conducted by Philip Wells and Gary Paoli of Indonesia-based Daemeter Consulting, concludes that while the moratorium is “potentially a powerful instrument” for achieving the Indonesian president’s goals of 7 percent annual growth and a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a projected 2020 baseline, the language of the moratorium leaves significant areas open for interpretation, potentially offering loopholes for developers.

Wells and Paoli note that the new permit restrictions are limited to areas denoted on a map released in the presidential instruction (Inpres) [Indonesian | English]. But the data and assumptions underlying the map’s production aren’t clear in some cases. For example, the instruction doesn’t explain how “primary forest” areas are designated in the map. The authors say the primary forest element of the map appears to be based on an unreleased interpretation of 2009 satellite imagery by the Ministry of Forestry, minus areas that have already been concessioned for logging and conversion, as well as “some but not all Conservation Areas.” The amount of primary forest presently allocated in concessions is not specified by the Ministry of Forestry or the Inpres.

Click image to enlarge

The analysis highlights an apparent inconsistency between the Letter of Intent (LOI) Indonesia signed with Norway, which lays out a plan for reducing deforestation, and the Indonesian government.

“The LoI, which serves as the proximal motivation for the presidential instruction, uses the term ‘natural forest’ in reference to areas intended to be covered by the moratorium,” Wells and Paoli write. “Within
the presidential instruction, the government of Indonesia has elected to interpret ‘natural forest’ as forest that has never been logged or damaged by humans. This narrow GoI definition of natural forest is roughly equivalent to undisturbed primary forest in the common nomenclature used by the wider public, and as such may not conform to expectations of all parties concerning the LoI.”

The exclusion of secondary forest from the moratorium has implications for the effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation. Selectively logged forests can sequester substantial amounts of carbon and therefore their conversion can produce upwards of 100 metric tons of carbon per hectare. Wells and Paoli thus note that “future conversion of logged forest will therefore continue to be a major source of emissions for Indonesia” under the moratorium. They estimate that “the total area of forest covered [by the moratorium] is far less than the total area that is not” and note that “an arbitrary portion of official conservation areas and protected forests appear to have been excluded.”

The map has also yet to be released in a format that allows for closer scrutiny. The public version has a resolution of 1:19 million, too coarse for meaningful use.

In their analysis, Wells and Paoli reveal another complication: potential inconsistencies between the map and spirit of the Inpres.

“The Second Dictum of the PI states that the moratorium applies to primary natural forest and peat lands, without making explicit reference to the Map. However, in practice, the moratorium on issuance on new licenses applies to all areas covered by the Map,” the write. “This raises the question, what happens when there are discrepancies between the Map itself and areas the text of the PI mandates should depicted in the Map? No instructions have been provided in the text to address this point.”

Deforestation in Kalimantan and Sumatra

Nor does the Inpres seem to address a potential loophole: expansion of existing plantation licenses into primary forest areas. An ministerial decree issued December 31, 2010 — the day before the moratorium was set to take effect — allows the conversion of industrial plantation licenses (HTI permit) into logging licenses (HPH). Once logged, the forest would no longer be considered “primary” so it would be escape the moratorium.

Given the uncertainty of Inpres at the national level, Wells and Paoli highlight the need to improve planning at sub-national levels and within areas classified as “non-forest lands” that may indeed have forest cover but are outside the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forestry.

The Inpres defines a few potentially large exemptions from the moratorium: licenses for geothermal projects, oil and gas development, and electricity generation are excluded, indicating these activities can continue in primary forest areas and peatlands. Rice fields and sugarcane plantations can also be carved out of forest areas otherwise banned from conversion under the moratorium, opening the door for a massive agricultural development project planned for Papua to proceed.

Wells and Paoli end their analysis by emphasizing the uncertainty of the moratorium as defined by the Inpres.

“The magnitude of potential GHG emission deferrals likely to result from the presidential instruction as written, or that could have been deferred under alternative scenarios put forward for the moratorium (e.g. by the REDD+ Taskforce), is not possible to estimate with any precision,” they write.

An Analysis of Presidential Instruction No. 10, 2011: Moratorium on Granting of New Licenses and Improvement of Natural Primary Forest and Peatland Governance [PDF] [Indonesian version]

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