Indonesian government makes bold decision to extend the forestry moratorium.

Despite fierce industry pressure, President SBY has extended the moratorium on new concessions for a further 2 years.

In 2011 the Indonesian government decreed a moratorium, or pause, on new logging and plantation concessions in 65 million hectares of primary forest and peatland areas. There were broad calls for the moratorium to be extended, including from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, and thankfully sense has prevailed and the moratorium has indeed been extended.

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Industrial lobbying has been fierce, however, especially from the palm oil industry which complains that the moratorium will hinder the economy. With that in mind, it is encouraging that the President has demonstrated the governments intention to keep the environment high on the political agenda.

The original moratorium was signed as part of a $1billion pledge from Norway to support Indonesia in its efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia’s 2005 carbon emissions were estimated at 2.05 gigatons, making them the third largest global emitter of CO2 after the United States and China (UNFCC). The vast majority of these carbon emissions (almost 80%) stem from deforestation and the degradation of deep peatland. The billion dollars was pledged providing the government is successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 2011-16.

Indonesia Extends Moratorium on Forestry Concessions

© Martin Holland 2013

In 2009, President Susilo Bambang Yudyohono committed to reducing greenhouse emissions by 26% against a business as usual trajectory

Which is to say, not a net reduction in emissions, but a reduction in projected emissions. In addition, the president announced that if the international community would provide financial support, Indonesia would reduce its emissions by 41% by 2020, which, according to the Indonesian National Council on Climate Change, would represent a whopping 8% of the total global emissions reductions necessary to avoid a rise of more than 2 degrees Centigrade – the target set by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Enter Norway’s billion dollars. The moratorium was intended to support reductions in emissions, but it was long delayed and heavily criticised by environmental groups for being so watered down from the original idea, that many dismissed it as less than useless. Indeed, the powerful lobby groups representing timber, mining, and plantation interests were very successful in their attempts to limit the impact of any moratorium on their interests and profit margins. Crucially, concessions already agreed before May 2011 would not be cancelled, even if they had not begun and violated the terms of the moratorium.

However, 14.5 million hectares of previously unprotected forests was now deemed off limits, and that was certainly worth celebrating, and it is worth celebrating again now. Perhaps more significant than the figures are the signals this government is sending to industry, society, and the international community about the future.

Environmental issues, such as deforestation and climate change, are now firmly on the political agenda, and are being discussed as important factors in the economic and social health of a nation that built its post-independence development on a hugely unsustainable program of resource exploitation.

Two years was never going to be enough time for REDD+ Presidential Task Force to make the sort of headway needed to build the foundations for systemic change in what is an undeniably corrupt, confused, and complicated area. But encouraging steps have been made, and the REDD+ Task Force appears to be sincere in its intent. Another two years will mean the Task Force will have been active for 4 years, and this agenda of sustainability will be bedded ever deeper in the socio-political discourse.