Enviros Warn of ‘Propaganda’ as Indonesia Sets Permanent Moratorium on Logging Primary Forest
Indonesia has announced that a 2011 moratorium on logging primary forest will be made permanent, but environmental groups looking at gaps in the plan are declaring it little more than greenwashing.
“The government says the policy has been effective in slowing deforestation, but environmental activists blast those claims as ‘propaganda’, saying that forest loss and fires have actually increased in areas that qualify for the moratorium,” Mongabay reports. “They’ve highlighted several loopholes in the moratorium that allow developers to continue exploiting forest areas without consequence.” And they’re “skeptical that a newer moratorium, on granting permits for oil palm cultivation, will do much to help slow the rate of deforestation.”
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“This is a very good and positive thing,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar maintained in an August 5 statement, after he and President Joko Widodo signed an extension that made the temporary moratorium permanent. But Mongabay cites serious problems with the plan.
“The moratorium prohibits the conversion of primary natural forests and peatlands for oil palm, pulpwood, and logging concessions,” the publication states. “The policy explicitly prohibits the issuance of new plantation and logging permits for carbon-rich primary forests—but not for secondary forests, defined under Indonesian law as those that have previously been logged to any extent.”
The result is that “some parties are deliberately clearing areas of primary forest within moratorium zones for the express purpose of degrading them,” the publication adds, citing Zenzi Suhadi, head of advocacy for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment,. “Once that happens, these areas are recognized as secondary forest, and thus fall out of the scope of the moratorium.”
While Siti’s department claims a 38% reduction in deforestation in areas covered by the ban, “analysis of satellite imagery by Greenpeace shows that deforestation rates increased in those areas after 2011,” Mongabay notes. “The NGO recorded 12,000 square kilometres (4,630 square miles) of forest loss within the moratorium areas in the seven years after the ban was implemented. This corresponds to an average annual rate of deforestation of 1,370 square kilometres (530 square miles)—higher than the average 970 square kilometres (375 square miles) per year in the seven years before 2011.”
Greenpeace said it relied on tropical deforestation data from the University of Maryland, after determining that Indonesia government data was inconsistent and hard to process.
“The Indonesia forests moratorium is a good example of government propaganda on forest conservation,” said Kiki Taufik, the head of Greenpeace’s Southeast Asia forests campaign. “It sounds impressive, but doesn’t deliver real change on the ground.”
The organization is also questioning how effectively the moratorium prevented fires in its area of coverage, with nearly 34,000 square kilometres (13,100 square miles) of the lands burned between 2015 and 2018 showing up in moratorium areas. Mongabay cites a 2015 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that echoed questions about the moratorium’s impact on deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
“For Indonesia to have achieved its target of reducing emissions by 26% [by 2020], the geographic scope of the moratorium would have had to expand beyond new concessions to also include existing concessions, and address deforestation outside of concessions and protected areas,” the study concluded.