Tripa peat fires. Courtesy of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program
An Indonesian court has instructed the governor of Aceh province to revoke a controversial license owned by a palm oil company accused of destroying orangutan habitat and carbon-rich peatlands on the island of Sumatra, reports The Jakarta Post.
The permit allowing PT Kallista Alam to establish a 1,605-hectare plantation in the Tripa peat swamp is controversial because it violated a country-wide moratorium on new concessions in peatlands and primary forests issued in 2011 by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. It was granted by the former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf more than three months after the moratorium went into effect.
A local environmental group — the Aceh chapter Walhi — filed suit against PT Kallista Alam and the Aceh government to test the central government’s commitment to the moratorium. The case garnered international interest for both its egregious nature — multiple regulations should have protected the land from conversion — and the presence of critically endangered orangutans. Local communities were also opposed to the plantation, bringing in a human rights element as well.
Sumatran Orangutan in the Leuser ecosystem. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
PT Kallista Alam is also the subject of a police investigation for illegal burning, according to The Jakarta Post.
The court ruling was immediately welcomed by Indonesia’s REDD+ Task Force, which is charged with implementing the country’s program for reducing deforestation.
“This decision is in line with our recommendation because the land utilization permit granted to PT. Kalista Alam was based on invalidated location permit (izin lokasi) and is included in the Indicative Moratorium Map (IMM). So, we hope there will be no more mismanagement in the process of permit issuance,” said Mas Achmad Santosa, Chair of the Working Group of Legal Review and Law Enforcement of the REDD+ Task Force, in a statement.
Over the past 20 years Indonesia has had one of the highest rates of forest loss in the world, but in 2009 Indonesian Yudhoyono pledged to reduce deforestation as part of a commitment to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Under his “7/26” plan, Indonesia aims to reduce emissions by at least 26 percent — and up to 41 percent with international support — by 2020 relative to a business-as-usual scenario. Norway has committed up to $1 billion to support the initiative.