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Indonesia imposes moratorium on new logging permits

Peat forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett Butler.Peat forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photos by Rhett Butler.

Indonesia’s new Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar imposed a moratorium on the issuance of all new logging permits a little over a week after being appointed in late October.

The move is being celebrated by conservation groups and signals that interest in reforming Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional forestry sector has reached the highest levels of government, with direction coming from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

“The President’s order is for permit-issuances to be fair, accurate, clear and accountable, which means that the procedure is clear and the result is certain,” said Siti. “We will halt issuance of all permits until the integration process is completed to the President’s satisfaction.”

The moratorium is likely to last between four and six months says the ministry.

“It’s a welcome signal that Minister Siti and the president recognize that the forest sector is a vital and highly visible sector,” said the Rainforest Action Network’s Lacadio Cortesi. “It suggests they are very aware that the sector is plagued by problems that must be addressed to improve fairness and certainty for businesses and communities, to avoid exacerbating land and social conflict, to tackle corruption, to reduce deforestation and Indonesia’s carbon footprint, and to improve standing of Indonesian products in the marketplace.”

Cortesi along with several other conservation groups say the impact of the moratorium will come down to how rigorously the moratorium is enforced. They point out that under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono levels of deforestation actually went up despite a halt on the issuance of new logging permits.

Legal logging concessions accounted for 27 percent of Indonesia’s forest loss within concession areas between 2000 and 2010. according to a study published by Sinan Abood and colleagues earlier this year.

While SBY’s two-year prohibition on new permits only covered primary forests and peatlands, the groups say, it’s important to draw lessons for its failure to halt forest destruction.

“Being aware of the successes and failures of that initiative could help her further shape her moratorium policy, and speed up the process for licensing reform,” said Andika Putraditama, Outreach Officer for World Resources Institute, Indonesia.

“The significance of this policy will depend on her next action,” he added. “Indonesia needs a transparent and accountable system for issuing permits if it is to both bolster business and protect valuable forests.”

Cortesi agrees that reforming the permitting process, rather than halting it altogether, is key.

“Even if the scope is wide and effort at reform are genuine, this moratorium will only temporarily prevent allocation of new permits or renewal of existing ones,” he said. “Lasting impact will not be from the moratorium but from the process, type and scope of reforms put in place while the moratorium is in place.”

Illegal logging, like this in West Kalimantan, is rampant across Indonesia.

To do this well, say conservation groups, the ministry might need significantly more time than the 4-6 months. Much of Indonesia’s habitat destruction, land tenure conflicts, and greenhouse gas emissions is occurring on land parcels that have already been permitted, so the moratorium will have no impact on addressing these issues.

Key reforms, say conservationists, include: generating accurate maps of what areas of Indonesia’s forests have been allocated and to whom, consulting indigenous communities during the permitting process and ensuring their communal land tenure rights are respected, rooting out corruption and boosting law enforcement in the forestry sector, and prohibiting all logging on peatlands and in natural forests.

“There are a myriad of issues that will need to be addressed to clean up the permitting process and put in place effective reforms and to do this, plans and actions will be needed by other key ministries, district and provincial governments, law enforcement, the private sector and civil society,” said Cortesi.

Illegal logs floating in a river, waiting for processing in Central Kalimantan.
Illegal logs floating in a river, waiting for processing in Central Kalimantan.

Conservationists weren’t the only ones pleased with the moratorium.

“I welcome this decision,” said Aida Greenbury, Managing Director for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP). “There are currently a lot of confusions in the forestry sector that require clarity.”

Clearly defined standard operating procedures (SOPs), says Greenbury, are necessary in areas of peatland management, carrying out free, informed prior consent and conflict resolution, and addressing the issue of overlapping licenses.

“The six month window must be used by the ministry to produce SOPs to address these challenges,” she said. “The new SOPs must be based on best practice and science and be implemented for both new and existing licenses.”

APP is two years into its pledge to halt deforestation on its parcels of land. Greenbury said it’s been a difficult process but in doing so the company demonstrates that reform in the forestry sector can be realized.

Rainforest in Riau, Sumatra

“What is important here is that the Government must also play their role in enforcing the law and providing incentives to the industry for other players to follow,” she said.

And, like conservation groups, Greenbury says it’s important for the ministry to develop better relationships with stakeholders in the forestry sector.

“I am pleased that the Government has chosen to address this challenge so early in the new president’s tenure,” she said. “But to move forward, it is important to reach out and involve wider stakeholders.”


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