Jakarta. While environmentalists believe Indonesia has made “good progress” in its plans to protect its forests, the strategy could face setbacks under a new government, a recent report commissioned by forest aid donor Norway said.
The report, compiled by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, or Norad, stated that Norway, which in 2008 gave Brazil $720 million to help slow down deforestation, has also promised Indonesia, under the same deal in 2010, up to $1 billion, depending on its performance.
After the Amazon and the Congo basin, Indonesia has the third-largest rainforest area in the world, but it has cleared large tracts of forest to make way for palm oil plantations.
Norad said Indonesia has made good progress in its forest protection agenda but added that “upcoming governmental change and weaknesses in the legal basis” for forest protection “present a serious risk that achievements may be lost.”
With President-elect Joko Widodo set to take over from incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in October, new priorities could emerge, shifting the emphasis to expanding palm oil plantations, said Ida Hellmark, who coordinated the Norad report.
Indonesia has only received 2 percent of Norway’s total pledge so far.
Yuyun Indradi, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said that since the memorandum of understanding between Indonesia and Norway was performance-based, progress in the reduction and reversal of deforestation would directly affect the amounts received from the Norwegian government.
Progress in addressing deforestation will be measured by environmental agencies such as REDD++ and Greenpeace and the Directorate of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation.
During one of the presidential debates, Joko mentioned that he would restore 100.7 million hectares of degraded forests while also increasing development of a sustainable forestry industry. He did not provide, though, any specific details on the plan.
This has lead to doubt on the part of Norad and the Norwegian government.
“If Joko later changes his priority on forestry such as on the bio-ethanol issue, the government actually needs to increase productivity levels on existing land, rather than converting more land for palm oil plantations,” Yuyun said.
Meanwhile, Herry Purnomo, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor), said he was uncertain of what message Norway was trying to convey regarding Joko’s future environmental plans.
“I’m not sure whether Joko will either change or renew his priorities. You have to understand that the MOU between Norway and Indonesia is a marketing measure. Norway has agreed to purchase our carbon credits if we reduce deforestation under specific circumstances,” Herry said on Wednesday.
He said Norway has become indecisive over Indonesia’s initiative because of Joko’s seemingly unpredictable environmental plan.
Sharing Yuyun’s views, Herry said that ideally, renewable energy sources should be developed on already damaged forests or non-fertile lands, if possible.
The Forestry Ministry and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) have also stepped up efforts to prevent and eliminate corruption in the forestry sector.
Their efforts include scrutinizing the conversion of forest utilisation approval permits, that are used to obtain mining business permits.
Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said his ministry no longer issued forest utilization permits, which could be used to convert the forests into mining areas.
To date, up to a million hectares of forest land have been converted to mining areas.
Zulkifli said investigations showed that almost 12,000 forest utilisation approval permits in East Kalimantan had been used to open mining sites, which caused a major deforestation in the area.
The minster said the situation in South Kalimantan was even worse than in East Kalimantan, because four million forest utilisation approval permits have been misused by the holders to open mining sites.
“That’s why we support the mining moratorium and KPK officials going [to South Kalimantan] every week to spread awareness on the issue so that mayors can revoke permits that have been misused, especially those in protected forests or national parks,” he said.
Additional reporting from Reuters