- Indonesia’s forestry minister says a government agency to manage the archipelago’s peat restoration plans will be overseen by the president.
- The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) announced new policies at a palm oil conference in Bali on Thursday.
- A shipping trade publication in Singapore surveyed 250 people in the city state and found 18% of them would relocate if the haze “became an annual norm.”
Indonesia will form a government agency overseen directly by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to manage what could be an unprecedented restoration of the archipelago’s peatlands following this year’s devastating wildfires.
“I want this body to be formed immediately,” forestry minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said on the sidelines of a tree-planting ceremony in South Kalimantan province on Wednesday.
Indonesia has informally committed to restoring 2 million hectares of peat in Kalimantan and Sumatra in order to minimize the risk of future fires.
The minister said the agency was still being prepared by the office of the state secretariat and the cabinet secretary. Siti added that the forestry ministry was consulting with vice president Jusuf Kalla on the establishment of the peat restoration body, and that the government was studying the existing legal framework before publishing a regulation to launch the agency.
Siti said a principal responsibility of the agency would be to establish a database of canals in Indonesia’s peatlands, and list those which have been blocked.
How this agency will be funded remains an open question. The minister said Indonesia has received informal interest from the government of Norway and the World Bank, but the details are far from finalized and external donors will likely remain in wait-and-see mode until the agency is formed.
Analysts and NGOs emphasize restoring Indonesia’s peatlands will require a substantial financial commitment over decades. The government is still in the early stages, however, of establishing a funding formula for the restoration.
“It must be clear who picks up the costs,” said Nyoman Suryadiputra , executive director of Wetlands International Indonesia, adding that he was supportive of the peat restoration agency, in principle.
“The government should not be covering the cost if the land being restored is managed by the private sector,” he said.
Also up in the air is an impending presidential decree on peatland protection. Jokowi has promised to issue the regulation, but it could take any of several forms, not all of which are equal in strength.
The Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) meanwhile announced new policies at a palm oil conference in Bali on Thursday.
Gapki uses data from Indonesia’s forestry ministry that show 59% of fires occurred in plantation areas. The palm oil industry body said the reduced oil palm yield caused by fires damaged plantation companies’ bottom lines, and emphasized that the burning of land ran counter to their interests.
“Smoke and fires lowers productivity by 28-40%,” said Gapki secretary general Joko Supriyono. “So it does not make sense for palm oil companies to deliberately burn land when it is against their self-interest.”
Gapki said its members would increase firefighting capacity, boost cooperation with local police forces and the Indonesian military, and take a more active role in distributing face masks in affected areas. Gapki is also being consulted by the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs in drafting new land-management regulations.
Indonesian government and NGO officers are preparing this week to travel to Paris for crucial climate change talks beginning November 30. The region’s haze problem will be back in the spotlight after fading from the headlines in recent weeks after the onset of the rainy season in Kalimantan and Sumatra.
A shipping trade publication in Singapore surveyed 250 people in the city state and found 18% of them would relocate if the haze “became an annual norm.” One shipping company said it had considered building an office barge which could be towed to a clean-air location when necessary.
“If two months out of the year are spent with the haze, expats will not want to live and work in Singapore,” one shipping executive said in response to the survey.