Stakeholder Capitalism

Indonesia thinks big on forest protection

A fire fighter tries to put out a fire on land intended for a palm oil plantation in the village of Tanjung Palas, Dumai, Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia in this photo taken by Antara Foto on March 5, 2016. Indonesia's western province of Riau has declared a state of emergency over forest and land fires blazing on the island of Sumatra, a government official said on Tuesday. Picture taken March 5, 2016.REUTERS/Aswaddy Hamid/Antara Foto ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA. - GF10000337622

In Indonesia, deforestation has been on the decline for four years. Image: REUTERS/Aswaddy Hamid/Antara Foto

Michael Taylor
Asia correspondent and sub-editor, Thomson Reuters Foundation
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Stakeholder Capitalism?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how SDG 13: Climate Action is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

SDG 13: Climate Action

  • The Southeast Asia haze crisis of 2015 raised pressure to curb fires across the region.
  • In response, government and businesses reduced forest clearing for commodities, with deforestation now declinining for four years in a row.
  • It's vital that conservation efforts also look to protect carbon-rich areas like peatland and mangroves.

As forest fires raged in Indonesia six years ago, a thick, toxic smoke haze drifted across Southeast Asia that would lead to more than 100,000 premature deaths, destroy huge swathes of forest and threaten endangered orangutans.

In the aftermath, environmentalists and governments, both regional and local, demanded action from Jakarta, forcing a policy reset that last year helped the country achieve a fourth straight year of declines in deforestation.

Bimo Dwisatrio, a senior research officer at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said the 2015 crisis was a political game-changer for forest governance under Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi.

The fires occurred just months after he was elected in 2014. "Jokowi took a bold step," Dwisatrio told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, pointing to his move to merge the environment and forestry ministries.

At the time it was criticised by many conservationists, but has resulted in better aligned policies on conservation, forest fires and permits for commodities development.

Last year, tropical forest losses around the world equalled the size of the Netherlands, according to satellite monitoring service Global Forest Watch (GFW).

Green groups blame production of commodities like palm oil - used in everything from margarine to soap and fuel - and minerals for much of the destruction of forests, as they are cleared for plantations, ranches, farms and mines.

Have you read?

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming emissions produced worldwide, but release carbon back into the air when they rot or are burned.

In Indonesia, home to the world's third-largest tropical forests and also its biggest palm-oil producer, deforestation rates have bucked the worsening global trend.

Last year, the sprawling archipelago improved from third to fourth place in the GFW ranking for tropical forest loss, which amounted to about 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres), as forest protection policies, lower commodity prices and wetter weather eased pressures.

Moratorium Mandate

After visiting some of the areas worst-hit by the 2015 fires, Widodo introduced more legislation to stop the development of old-growth forest.

The government renewed a moratorium on new conversion permits for primary forest and peatland - which had been extended since 2011 - before making it permanent in 2019.

In late 2018, Widodo imposed a temporary ban on new permits for palm plantations for three years.

Dechen Tsering, Asia-Pacific director at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the restrictions on new clearance "have certainly been critical", while falling palm oil prices may also have helped slow deforestation.

The establishment of an agency to restore more than 2 million hectares of damaged, carbon-rich peat has also been positive, said environment experts, who welcomed a recent expansion of its mandate to mangroves.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo stands as he inspects burnt forest in Pelalawan, Riau province, Indonesia, September 17, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.
A policy reset last year helped the country achieve a fourth straight year of declines in deforestation. Image: Reuters/Antara Foto/Puspa Perwitasari

In addition, Widodo vowed to return 12.7 million hectares of forest land to indigenous people following a historic 2013 court ruling to lift state control of customary forests.

And the government last year issued an agrarian reform decree aimed at redistributing land and issuing titles on some 9 million hectares.

David Dellatore, director of conservation programmes for U.S.-based nonprofit Rainforest Trust, said those reforms were helping to alleviate poverty and encourage sustainable land use.

Forest-reliant businesses such as palm oil and pulp and paper companies have, meanwhile, adopted new industry-wide policies under pledges to phase out deforestation, worked with green groups, and invested in technologies to track supplies and prevent forest fires.

The global palm oil industry watchdog has adopted stricter rules for certification schemes to safeguard forests, while Indonesia also expanded its own sustainability scheme.

UNEP's Tsering said there were still challenges, such as forest-clearing by small-scale producers for palm oil and other commodities, and conflicts over forest land between communities and businesses, which often lead to fires.

Green groups have warned of rising deforestation risks, from both food and palm oil projects, in Indonesia's Papua province.

Brazil gains reversed

Despite those concerns, Indonesia's conservation approach could help other countries now battling growing deforestation, like Brazil and Bolivia, forest experts said.

Success would hinge on enlisting the support of impoverished communities, said Rainforest Trust's Dellatore.

"If one's basic needs are not being met, it is unrealistic to expect conservation efforts that serve to limit development to flourish," he said.

In the past, measures like those used in Indonesia had a positive impact on deforestation in Brazil, reducing it by 80%, he noted.

They included similar efforts to clean up supply chains, in this case for beef and soy, alongside increased law enforcement and firefighting.

From 2004 to 2012, Brazil was a leader in reducing deforestation in the Amazon and mitigating climate change, thanks to public policies and private measures, which it shared with Indonesia, said Dwisatrio.

"But it is clear from the case of Brazil how quickly such gains can be reversed through political instability," he added.

Vital carbon sinks

Last week, Widodo praised Indonesia's slowing deforestation rates and mangrove restoration projects during the virtual climate summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Under the Paris climate accord, Indonesia has committed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 29% by 2030, a target that could rise to 41% with international support.

While progress on protecting forests will help achieve its emissions pledges, they will not be strengthened in an updated climate action plan due to be submitted ahead of a U.N. climate summit in November, officials have indicated.

Discover

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

UNEP's Tsering said all countries, including Indonesia, would need to set their sights higher in protecting massive, irrecoverable carbon sinks like tropical forests and peatlands.

More than half of Indonesia's emissions are related to deforestation, peatland degradation and fires, she noted.

"Without addressing these emission sources, Indonesia will not be able to meet its ... (targets) under the Paris Agreement," she added.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Stakeholder CapitalismSustainable DevelopmentNature and BiodiversityForum Institutional
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

To create a 'sustainomy' businesses must focus on the ecosystem, not just the market

"Arm" Piyachart Isarabhakdee

June 17, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum