Indonesia’s top REDD+ official confirmed there is no plan to open 1.2 million hectares of protected forest in Sumatra’s Aceh Province, calling into question numbers used by environmentalists in their bid to stop reclassification of the province’s forest land.
In a statement released Sunday, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, head of the REDD+ Task Force and the President’s Delivery Unit for Development, Monitoring & Oversight (UKP-PPP), said that the 1.2 million hectare figure comes from the difference between a plan proposed, but never implemented, by former governor Yusuf Irwandi and the new spatial plan drafted by current governor, Zaini Abdullah.
“Our mapping team had reanalyzed existing data and documents and we have not found any evidence of plans to convert up to 1.2 million hectares of forests as cited recently by a number of groups,” said Kuntoro. “The figure for forest conversion proposal is consistent with what was stated by the Aceh Regional Government and the Ministry of Forestry.”
According to the analysis by Kuntoro’s team, the area that would have been protected under Governor Irwandi’s proposed plan amounted to 2.75 million hectares, or 855,000 hectares more than was protected under the year 2000 spatial plan. Last year Governor Zaini proposed a new spatial plan that would reduce Aceh’s protected forest area to 1.79 million hectares, or just over 100,000 hectares.
Kuntoro said that transparency and accountability is critical in the spatial plan process.
“We will keep pushing for transparency and accountability in the RTRW Aceh drafting process by further advising wider public consultation,” said Kuntoro. “We also hope that this process involve more ministries and agencies to guarantee consistency in procedures and substance, including the requirement to complete a Strategic Environmental Assessment (Kajian Lingkungan Hidup Strategis, KLHS).”
Irwandi’s statement is a blow to the credibility of campaigners who asserted that the new spatial plan would open 1.2 million hectares of protected forest for palm oil development, logging concessions, and mining areas. Environmentalists used the 1.2 million figure because an Aceh official had cited the number in discussions on the spatial plan revision, even though it was clear that number did not reflect the current state of forest cover in Aceh, which was around 55 percent in 2010. Governor Irwandi’s plan — had it passed — would have brought the province’s protected area to about 68 percent of its land mass, requiring reforestation or allowing natural forest recovery. Under Governor Zaini’s plan currently being evaluated by the Ministry of Forestry, the protected forest area would be 45 percent. Indonesia’s moratorium on new forestry permits presently applies to about 48 percent of Aceh.
The announcement comes shortly after an Avaaz.org campaign racked up more than a million signatures calling on Indonesian officials to scrap the proposed revision. The campaign focused on the threats forest rezoning posed to the province’s charismatic wildlife species, including endangered orangutans, rhinos, elephants, and tigers.
Nonetheless the new spatial plan would increase environmental risks by opening large blocks of land to mining and granting concessions in steep terrain, according to conservationists. Road construction would potentially bisect areas of contiguous forest into smaller blocks, increasing edge effects and the danger of subsequent deforestation.
Aceh has the most extensive forest cover left in Sumatra, where vast swathes of forest — 40 percent of its primary forests and 36 percent of its total forest cover since 1990 — have been cleared for pulp and paper plantations, oil palm estates, and agriculture.
(05/15/2013) An AVAAZ petition calling upon Indonesian officials to put a stop to a proposal to open tens of thousands of hectares of protected rainforest to mining, logging, and oil palm plantations has surpassed one million signatures.
(04/18/2013) A Toronto Stock Exchange-listed mining company has hired an official being investigated for corruption under its effort to convince the Aceh provincial government to re-zone protected forest areas for a gold mine on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, according to an alliance of Indonesian environmentalists. The official, former Golkar Deputy Chairman Fadel Muhammad, has been retained by East Asia Minerals to help it win a carve-out for its Miwah project, a 30,000-hectare concession atop a forested mountain in Aceh.
(03/22/2013) A group of biologists and conservation scientists meeting in Sumatra warned that potential changes to Aceh’s spatial plan could undermine some of the ecological services that underpin the Indonesian province’s economy and well-being of its citizens. After its meeting from March 18-22 in Banda Aceh, the Asia chapter of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) issued a declaration [PDF] highlighting the importance of the region’s tropical forest ecosystem, which is potentially at risk due to proposed changes to its spatial plan.