June 16, 2024

Environmentalists Criticize Indonesia’s Plan to Save Forests

The initiative, in the form of a decree signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commits Indonesia to a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear about 158 million acres of virgin forest and carbon-rich peatland.

The plan had its origins in a climate conference in Oslo in May 2010. It links the $1 billion in financing to “verified emissions reductions” as part of the effort known as Reduced Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which is backed by the United Nations. Under the accord, developed countries help pay for the preservation of forests in developing countries.

Scheduled to begin in January, the moratorium was delayed as environmentalists and climate scientists pressed the government to increase the amount of land that would be off limits to new development. Powerful industries and some government departments pushed back.

The moratorium has been promoted as a landmark step in tackling climate change by reducing deforestation, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative has been seen as a rare bright spot among stalled efforts to reduce worldwide emissions.

The moratorium — which does not affect existing forestry concessions and also allows for the development in virgin forest of some mining and agriculture projects deemed of vital national interest — has left neither environmentalists nor the affected industries entirely satisfied. But the government said the compromise was a step in reversing Indonesia’s record of unchecked clearing of tropical forests.

“I guess everybody has their own expectations,” said Agus Purnomo, Mr. Yudhoyono’s special adviser on climate change. Referring to nongovernmental organizations, he added, “The NGOs, the international community, they would like to see all permits in all forests be suspended.”

“That’s never been the intention,” he said. “All we’ve committed to is natural forests — that is, forests in good standing, untouched by humans.”

Mr. Purnomo said the moratorium was a first step for Indonesia to reach its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions — the third highest in the world by some counts — by at least 26 percent by 2020. Other major measures, like a financing mechanism for anti-deforestation projects and an agency to oversee emission reduction efforts, are still being planned.

The environmental group Greenpeace said the moratorium showed that Indonesia had committed itself to the rhetoric of forest conservation, but it contended that compromises to powerful land-clearing industries like palm oil and pulp and paper would undercut the effort.

“Actually, it’s really a bit disappointing,” said Bustar Maitar, a leading forest activist at Greenpeace. “For sure, industry will be happy with this. This is part of their strong lobbying.”

Aida Greenbury, managing director of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of Indonesia’s largest paper producers, called the plan “a step forward.” But she said it needed to be followed by government action on promises to clear up Indonesia’s confusing system of land classification. The system makes it unclear just what is virgin forest and what is “degraded” land, which is considered to have lower environmental value.

Louis Verchot, chief climate scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research, based in Indonesia, cautioned that the moratorium was only a first step in addressing the long-term need to reduce emissions. “This guarantees a reduction in emissions, but it doesn’t guarantee Indonesia is going to meet its targets,” he said. “This should not be construed in any way as the mechanism by which Indonesia is going to meet its emissions reductions commitments.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9f0620152982b6e05c89c79085d235ae

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