Indonesia President Lauds Success of Logging Ban, Urges Continued Action

At the 2014 Forest Asia Summit, the current Indonesian President has expressed his hope that his successor would be able to prolong the ban on new logging and plantation concessions he introduced in 2011. Read more below to find out how this ban has helped reduce deforestation and what he said still needs to be done.

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Fire in Riau in early February. Photo by Rhett A. Butler 

Jakarta, Indonesia – A few months before his administration ends, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed hope that his successor would be able to prolong the ban on new logging and plantation concessions he introduced in 2011. He cited the progress it has made towards more sustainable land-use practices, and subsequent benefits in environmental conditions and public health. 

Yudhoyono expressed this hope in his speech at the 2014 Forest Asia Summit, held in Jakarta, on May 5 and 6, the theme of which was “Sustainable Landscapes for Green Growth in Southeast Asia.” 

“In 2011, I signed a moratorium of new utilization and conversion licenses to protect more than 63 million hectares of primary forests and peat lands. This is an area larger than the landmass of Malaysia and the Philippines combined,” Yudhoyono said. “Last year, I extended the policy until 2015. I hope my successor can prolong this moratorium.” 

He was citing the Suspension of Granting of New Licenses and Improvement of Governance of Natural Primary Forest and Peat Land. Also known as the “forest moratorium,” this policy has attracted both praise from regional and international green activists and criticism from business sectors, especially palm oil and mining industries. 

From the business perspective, Petrus Gunarso, Sustainability Director of APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited), said if the moratorium were extended by the next administration, it must be more than just a logging ban, but also include measures preventing intentional burning. 

“Second, it needs to be clear [what is] the purpose of the moratorium, if it is for mitigation then there should be funding allocation on the effort [from the government],” said Gunarso, adding that the company has yet to compare the benefits of implementing the moratorium versus allowing logging to continue. 

Furthermore, in his speech, Yudhoyono also underlined pro-environment policies that had been established within the ten year duration of his administration. 

“We have lowered our deforestation rate from 1.2 million hectares per year between 2003 and 2006, [to] 450,000 to 600,000 hectares per year during 2011 to 2013,” he said. [Editor’s note: the Ministry of Forestry data cited by SBY is contested by other analyses, which suggest much higher rates of loss between 2011 and 2013] 

Map of forest cover in Sumatra, 2010.
Map of forest cover in Sumatra, 2010. Courtesy of Belinda Arunarwati Margono et al 2012.

According to Yudhoyono, this reduction in the rate of deforestation led to a reduction in CO2 emissions of approximately 211 million tons per year. In addition, he said that four billion trees have been planted in the last four years. Despite these achievements, Yudhoyono admitted more remains to be done as there still exist many unsustainable land-use practices. He cited Riau province, in Sumatra, which is frequently mentioned in the news due to the prevalence and severity of its forest fires. 

Last year, smoke from deliberately-set Sumatran forest fires drastically lowered the air quality of neighboring countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, who filed official complaints to the Indonesian government. This year, while it remained within the Indonesian border, smoke was considered the worst ever recorded in Riau, with at least three deaths directly attributed to exposure. 

Yudhoyono stated that the Riau government failed to mitigate the situation caused by the fires, pushing him to deploy federal disaster relief and implement strong law enforcement actions. 

“Following these measures, over a hundred individuals and a dozen corporations are facing court trials for forestry-related crimes,” he said. “[These are] crimes that cause humanitarian and environmental disasters.” 

Yudhoyono said that this legal measure sends a firm message that burning land and forests, logging illegally, and farming on illegal plantations either by individuals or companies will not be tolerated nor left unpunished. 

“Riau forest fires give us many lessons,” he said. “It was a man-made disaster that disrupted the lives and damaged the health of…villagers, town-folks, and communities. The haze paralyzed transportation and communications vital to daily lives, and services that businesses depend on. And it prevented children access to schools and education.” 

Fire density in Riau. 87 percent of the fire alerts across Sumatra for March 4-11 are in Riau Province. Courtesy of WRI 

However, he said that forest management is a cross-cutting issue, one that concerns not only protection of trees. 

“It is about striking a balance between the need for conserving the environment, and guaranteeing the rights of local communities over their customary forests,” he said. 

According to Gunarso, concession managers have been implementing ecohydrology technology, which basically prevents peatlands from draining and drying out, which leads to easy burning. 

“However, this is not a cheap technology and it cannot be done [by] only one company and on a small scale,” he said. “It needs to be done through a landscape approach, which means cooperation between companies.” 

Meanwhile, Ahmad Dhiaulhaq, researcher and trainer at RECOFT (The Center for People and Forest), said that technology alone cannot solve conflicts on the ground, especially in Riau. 

“These fires resulted from social issues and social approaches [are needed] to deal with them,” Dhiaulhaq said. “Mediation will work to some extent, but it needs follow-up. Very often when they have reached an agreement, there were no follow-ups or monitoring because [the agreement] is not legally binding. People can abandon it anytime and that would spark more tension.” 

Concluding his speech, Yudhoyono highlighted the responsibility of the Southeast Asian (ASEAN) region to promote a low-carbon economy. This is particularly important given the fact that the total population of ASEAN member countries is projected to increase to 84 million people within the next 15 years. Increased population pressure will bring more demand for housing, transportation, food, and energy. 

“If left unchecked, this will put more pressure on the environment,” Dhiaulhaq said. “I believe the citizens of ASEAN do not wish to follow that self-destructing path of development.” 

A full transcript of the 2014 FAS speech is included at the end of this article.