Indonesia’s fires: a hazy challenge for Southeast Asia

Published in East Asia Forum, July 8th, 2013
Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU,Original link: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2013/07/08/indonesias-fires-a-hazy-challenge-for-southeast-asia/

In June 2013, Forest and land fires caused choking smog and transboundary haze in Southeast Asia. Indices of air pollution in Singapore, the southern Malaysia peninsula, and Indonesia’s Riau province had reached dangerous levels.

Smoke is seen while emanating from the grounds of a private palm oil concession company, formerly a peatland forest area, on 29 June 2013 in the Kampar district (Riau province), on Sumatra island. (Photo: AAP)

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has apologised to Malaysia and Singapore for this dangerous hazard, stating that his administration is tackling the problem seriously. The National Agency for Disaster Management, for instance, has been given Rp25 billion (US$2.725 million) to create artificial rain to extinguish the fires.

Serious forest and land fires, although occurring in many countries, reoccur regularly in Indonesia, mainly in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo (in 1982–83, 1987, 1991, 1994, 1997–98, 2005, 2006–07, 2010 and now in 2013).

The official data from Indonesia’s forestry ministry show that 339 hotspots were found in Riau during the period of 14–17 June. The current number of hotspots may still be lower than at the peak of massive fires in times past, where the amount of hotspots reached 25,000 to 35,000 in a month — the highest in August 1997 when 37,938 were counted. But the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics predicted that due to a weather anomaly trapping smog and haze above Singapore, southern Malaysia and Riau, the accumulation of haze in that area was more severe than usual.

Conventional suppression approaches — extinguishing fires after they occur — are likely to be inadequate. Artificial rain, water bombing and firefighting on the ground may tackle the immediate symptoms but not necessarily the causes.

In the past, haze and massive forest and land fires were usually caused by clearing and preparing the lands with fire, to develop plantations, agriculture and other land-use activities.

A recent analysis conducted by the World Resources Institute appears to show a similar pattern of causality. The analysis indicates that in the period of 12–20 June 2013, 48 per cent of fires occurred outside of land concessions, 27 per cent in timber plantations, 20 per cent in oil palm plantations, 4 per cent in protected areas and 1 per cent in logging concessions. A significant number of fires happening inside timber and oil palm plantations and other land uses — in other words, outside of concessions, and so likely associated with activities for clearing further land for agriculture/plantation — suggests that actions in addressing forest and peat conversion, as well as forest and land fires in Indonesia, are yet to address the root causes of the problems.

Indonesia has enacted policy placing a moratorium on forest conversion. But the recent fires could mean that policy implementation is lacking, including when it comes to prosecuting offenders, from low-level farmers up to big-plantation owners or even the financiers. Deforestation and peat conversion — for logging or to establish plantations and agriculture lands — very often leads to fires during the dry months, and this is why effectively enforcing the moratorium is essential.

There is need for a breakthrough in programs, cutting to the heart of the political economy of land uses at different levels, to fundamentally transform and positively influence land users’ behaviour in managing their lands.

It is a common perception among land users that using fires is one of the cheapest land preparation methods available. It is therefore important for the government to equip its policies with the appropriate incentives and disincentives; operational and technical guidelines; a clear institutional framework with a strong mandate; and a system for implementation, monitoring and enforcement.

Some land-use actors have used loopholes arising from unclear policies and poor coordination between ministries and different layers of governments, to gain an unfair advantage. If this continues, deforestation, peat lands conversion and fires may well become an annual catastrophe for Southeast Asia. This can be alleviated if investors and private land-use workers cooperate with authorities and other stakeholders to ensure the implementation and enforcement of responsible and sustainable practices, including conversion moratoriums and zero-burning activities.

Regarding law enforcement, and changing corporate practices on the ground, it is clear that regional collaboration among, at least, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore is urgently needed. Such collaboration should cover not only government but the private sector and civil society groups too.

Concessions and plantations are owned and financed by Indonesians, Malaysians, Singaporeans and others. Serious and proactive involvement and support for sustainable practices, by promoting, adopting and implementing zero-burning activities, as well as helping smallholders and local farmers to follow suit, are key elements of success in addressing Southeast Asia’s haze challenge. Financial institutions in the three countries and beyond, for instance, can develop robust investment screening policies to discourage high-risk investment patterns leading to deforestation and fires. Substantive investments, financial support and technical capacity need to be provided for small holders and poor farmers so that they have options to adopt zero-burning practices.

The public and consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore can further push companies to adopt sustainable practices by only purchasing products (palm oil, timber and the like) which have been produced in a sustainable manner.

Southeast Asian people, especially the citizens in these three countries, have every right to breathe fresh air and demand their governments and corporations act seriously, urgently and transparently so that responsible and sustainable practices become the norms. If such efforts can be done, this could send a strong signal to the market and governments that the people in the region will not tolerate environmental disasters now and in the future.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a climate and sustainability specialist, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.

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Jakarta’s gubernatorial election: a call for change

Published in East Asia Forum, September 29th, 2012

Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU,

original linkhttp://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/09/29/jakartas-gubernatorial-election-a-call-for-change/

Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s expected victory in the final round of Jakarta’s gubernatorial election against incumbent Governor Fauzi ‘Foke’ Bowo has sent a clear message that the government’s approach to managing Jakarta’s complex urban systems needs to change profoundly.

Official results will not be available until 1 October, but according to exit polls taken on 20 September 2012, Jokowi gained approximately 53–54 per cent of the votes while Foke obtained 46 per cent.

Jokowi’s running mate, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as ‘Ahok’), is a Christian with an ethnic-Chinese background. In the lead up to the final round of the election, several Muslim figures beseeched their constituents not to vote for a non-Muslim candidate, a clear message for voters to back away from the Jokowi–Ahok team. Seeing the increase in intolerance in Jakarta (and Indonesia as a whole), many Jakartans, including Jokowi’s supporters, reacted by calling for people to be rational and to elect candidates based on their performance. Many utilised social-media platforms — Jakarta having recently been named the most active Twitter city in the world — to convey their messages of tolerance. This seems to have paid dividends for Jokowi.

The results may have interesting implications for the approaching 2014 legislative and presidential elections. Jokowi was supported by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (the party of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri) and Gerindra (the party of former Suharto-era strongman and 2014 presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto). Foke was backed by the Democratic Party (the largest party in the parliament and the party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) and Golkar (the party of the former dictator Suharto). Such a shift in party support could foreshadow political change at the national level.

The key topics of debate during the campaign, however, related to challenges facing the megacity of Jakarta.

Jakarta has constantly struggled to find a balance between promoting development and providing a safe, healthy environment for its inhabitants. The city’s infrastructure has not kept up with its fast-growing population and high level of density. The state of the city’s poor infrastructure is hugely challenging for Jakartans.

Seasonal flooding is a serious problem, as Jakarta lacks the physical capacity to absorb high rainfall. Regular fire incidents in Jakarta have been associated with densely populated areas across the city and the mismanagement of urban slums and poverty — officials claim such incidents are mainly the result of illegal power connections. But the biggest topic of debate is the heavy traffic congestion; Jakarta’s traffic crisis is estimated to cost at least US$1.4 billion a year. A dramatic increase in multiple-vehicle ownership in Jakarta has not only led to traffic jams, but also to an increase in air pollution, which leads to high levels of respiratory and other serious diseases.

The outgoing governor has made efforts to address this issue, for instance, by pushing for special bus lines and a program for mass rapid-transport systems. Last year, the central government disbursed US$32.4 million in efforts to boost infrastructure development in and around the capital, partly aimed at improving transport infrastructure. But, according to many critics, these investments still fell far short of the Jakartan people’s expectations. Slow implementation and weak governance and law enforcement, as well as limited incentives and disincentives for the public to change their behaviour, have created major obstacles for the city government to overcome this issue.

The challenge of flooding is a similar story. While the outgoing governor and city administration claim to have been successful in addressing the issue, in particular by building the East Flood Canal, many point to the need for more comprehensive solutions.

Solutions for traffic jams and flooding, as well as many other issues, require changes in the behaviour of Jakartans (for example, flooding would be easier to address if people stopped throwing rubbish directly into rivers and drains). Jakartans need to realise that they contribute to the city’s problems, and their behaviour therefore needs to change if they are to be part of the solution. Regardless of any programs put in place by the city government, without active public participation, the desired outcomes will be hard to achieve.

Jokowi claims to have the appropriate solutions for Jakarta’s problems, drawing on his experience as the mayor of the Central Javan city of Surakarta (or Solo). As the mayor of Surakarta, and a nominee for the World Mayor 2012 awards, Jokowi has a reputation as a clean and down-to-earth leader. He demonstrated these characteristics in his previous role through his reluctance to draw a salary, the implementation of one-day processing for ID cards, and improvements to the informal sector and markets.

Jokowi’s critics argue that the challenge of running Jakarta is on a different level to the challenge of running Surakarta, the population of which is little more than half a million. But he and his running mate have a great opportunity to change Jakarta. The numbers show that the majority of Jakartans support the newly elected governor and vice governor. Their biggest challenge is to engage with all Jakartans, to encourage them to be part of the solution and to prove that they are the right leaders to run this megacity.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.

Rio+20 and challenges towards sustainable development

East Asia Forum, June 21st, 2012, Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU
Original link: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/06/21/rio20-and-challenges-towards-sustainable-development/
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), otherwise known as Rio+20, commenced yesterday (20 June) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This is one of the world’s largest-ever environment conferences, and a useful point at which to examine the progress and regress of countries in advancing sustainable development over the past few decades.

Sustainable development emphasises a holistic, equitable and forward-looking approach to decision making at all levels — not just focusing on economic performance but also on the environmental and social aspects of development, including intra-generational and inter-generatonal equity. The concept was developed in the 1987 Brundtland Report, and re-affirmed at the Rio Earth Summit 1992. This year’s UNCSD marks the 20th anniversary of that summit.

Twenty years on, countries around the world must now demonstrate whether their development paths have upheld the principles of sustainable development, through rethinking their economic growth, advancing social equity and ensuring environmental protection at all levels.

According to many scholars, some progress toward achieving sustainable development is being accomplished, albeit very slowly. Reports show an increase in collaboration between state and non-state actors, which has brought about gradual but important changes, including the promotion, development and application of sustainability principles in the management of key commodities, including forestry (through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)), fishery (through the Marine Stewardship Council) and palm oil (through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).

In Indonesia, prior to 2009, only 1.1 million hectares of forests were certified under the FSC, amounting to 2 per cent of the country’s production forests. Now, approximately 26 companies with a total 2.6 million hectares of forests are undertaking a rigorous process for FSC certification.

In addition to the Timber Legality Verification System (SVLK) implemented in 2009, which aims to verify the legality of all traded Indonesian timber products, forest certification is seeing Indonesia gradually move toward sustainable forestry practices. But, as those forests certified under FSC still make up only a small proportion of Indonesia’s total forests, achieving sustainability in this sector is still a significant challenge.

Progress has also been made in the prevention of biodiversity loss. In this sense, the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative can be seen as a test for Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei in conserving and sustainably managing 22 million hectares of important forest and terrestrial ecosystems.

However, promoting conservation and sustainable forest managementon such a significant scale requires not only political willingness but also concrete incentives and practical solutions on the ground.

Another immmediate political challenge for the HoB initiative is that a development policy released by the same government, the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI), may contradict efforts to protect, conserve and sustainably manage its forests and biodiversity in this area.

A recent discussion among scholars, high-ranking government officials, business practioners and NGO activists in Jakarta, facilitated by the Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy, agreed that the MP3EI may overlook environmental persectives and parameters.

If the conflict is not addressed, some actors involved in land-use activities in Borneo may use the economic development master plan as an excuse to continue their business-as-usual activities.

When it comes to creating incentives and developing practical solutions, the Rio+20 conference lists ‘green economy’ as one of its two major themes. The ‘green economy’ approach will presumably provide a platform for countries or other entities to address threats to sustainable developmant and conservation, and improve enabling conditions and propose solutions at a practical level.

The HoB initiative, at the Rio+20 conference, is launching a report entitled ‘Investing in Nature for a Green Economy’. This report is intended to show that the initiative concretely and seriously tackles existing and future threats, particularly from unsustainable land-use activities, and further improves enabling conditions, namely good economic policies that create positive incentives, good governance, clear land tenure and environmentally friendly sectoral development.

By using the ‘green economy’ concept, it is expected that the initiative can transform economic growth in the area, particularly through shifting investments — public and private, domestic and international — toward emerging green sectors and the greening of existing sectors, complemented by changes to unsustainable consumption patterns.

Natural capital, especially biodiversity, is under threat at the global level. In its State of Biodiversity of Asia and the Pacific (2010), UNEP ranked Indonesia second after Australia as having the most threatened plant and animal species in the region. The HoB initiative is an important model to demonstrate that development can take place in biodiversity-rich areas without further threatening fragile resources.

For developing countries like Indonesia and its neighbours, reforming and balancing their development pathways is a Herculean task. It is how to move forward with this challenge that is now being hotly discussed at Rio.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.

Bearing the consequences of Indonesia’s fuel subsidy

East Asia Forum, May 4th, 2012,

Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU

Original link: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/05/04/26135/

Indonesia’s decision at the end of March to reject an increase in petrol prices, thus delaying the reduction of fuel subsidies, is likely to have significant costs for the country and its people, impacting on the economy, the environment and Indonesia’s energy security.

Under the Suharto regime, Indonesia’s central government subsidised the price of a variety of energy products, including low-octane gasoline, with the aim of ensuring that energy was cheap and readily available. As long as the price of oil was low and the value of the rupiah relatively high, the subsidies remained modest.

But the decision to maintain fossil fuel subsidies in the wake of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 has severely affected the state budget. This is because Indonesia has been a net importer of both crude oil and refined products since 2004. With the skyrocketing demand for oil — especially in the transport and power sectors — and soaring global oil prices, the Indonesian economy has been placed under considerable strain.

Heavy oil and electricity subsidies cost the government US$9.78 billion in 2010, as shown by several studies, and are estimated to increase to US$18.55 billion (17 percent of government expenditure) in 2012, according to the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate General of Budget. The latter figure could be even higher since it reportedly underestimates the actual global oil price.

This pressure on the state budget also has other unwanted effects, namely, reduced allocations for poverty alleviation. For instance, Armida Alisjahbana, the state minister for national development planning, argued that a great deal of financial assistance to the poor, including funds allocated to the People’s Temporary Direct Aid (BLSM), village infrastructure, and improvements in family health programs and public transportation compensation, will have to be delayed or cancelled.

Indonesia’s low petrol prices — due to high fuel subsidies — have also contributed to a higher number of people purchasing private vehicles. According to the Asian Development Bank, the number of vehicles in Indonesia is projected to more than double between 2010 and 2035. The economic costs associated with managing this traffic congestion, and its health effects, are expected to be enormous.

Furthermore, a 2010 World Bank report revealed that, although the intention behind fuel subsidies is to enable poor people to consume fuel, the initiative disproportionately benefits the rich. The Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs even admitted in 2008 that indiscriminate fuel subsidies have been an ineffective way to target welfare transfers, with the wealthiest 40 per cent of households capturing 70 per cent of the subsidies.

Another unwanted consequence is the fragile security of Indonesia’s energy supply. Given the country’s low petrol prices, a 2009 study indicated that consumption of fossil fuels in the transport sector increased from six million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1980 to 25 Mtoe in 2005, or 48 per cent of national fuel consumption. This rapid consumption of fossil fuels, particularly oil, is worrying. For instance, 2012 data from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry shows that, with a production capacity of 0.5 billion barrels per year and increasingly limited oil reserves, Indonesia’s remaining oil will likely be exhausted within 20 years.

If no new reserves are found, Indonesia must urgently seek alternative energy sources, including from renewables. But developing renewable energy is a daunting task, especially while fossil fuels are comparatively cheap.

Agus Purnomo, the special advisor on climate change to Indonesia’s president, argued in 2009 that cutting fossil fuel subsidies is the key to bolstering the renewable energy sector’s competitiveness. Money previously used for subsidies could help seed investment in renewable energy development, enabling Indonesia to move toward a sustainable energy growth path.

But since fossil fuels are still heavily subsidised, their consumption is still leading to a heavy increase in greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants. This clearly contradicts President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s pledge to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite these unwanted consequences, removing fossil fuel subsidies is still too sensitive an issue. Simply sweeping the subsidy away has proven to be a high political risk that no party is willing to take. If this situation continues — with constant uncertainty as to whether the Indonesian political elite will act to dispose of fuel subsidies — Indonesia and its people will continue to bear the consequences.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.


Fixing legal loopholes in Indonesia’s forest and land use governance

January 27th, 2011

Published on East Asia Forum, Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU

As a country with one of the largest areas of rainforest in the world, it is not surprising that Indonesia is also considered a pioneer in the development of REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

In early 2007, the Ministry of Forestry (MoF) formed the Indonesia Forest Climate Alliance (IFCA) with the help of various government departments, donor agencies, research institutions and NGOs to initiate the development of REDD+ policies. Later that year, IFCA managed to outline key elements of REDD+, including methodologies, land-use policies, institutional arrangement and benefit distribution mechanisms.

Following the work of IFCA, the MoF has issued a number of ministerial decrees, which aim at governing REDD+ demonstration activities and providing an umbrella for benefit distribution mechanisms.

Last year in Oslo, on the same occasion as the signing of a letter of intent between the Indonesian and Norwegian governments, to signal his support for REDD+, the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced his commitment to halt all new concessions for conversion of peat and natural forests in two years, supposed to start in January 2011.

To realise this, the Indonesian government has to produce a clear strategy and legal framework which guides the moratorium of forest conversion and the overall REDD+. However, these existing and potential future regulations may not be sufficient to provide firm legal direction in developing and exercising REDD+.

A number of organisations argue that to have successful REDD+ the country has to reform its forest and land use governance, starting from the regulations that have shaped this governance system.

The latest institution to speak out about this issue is Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). When releasing its study on forestry late last year, the KPK emphasised that unclear definitions of forest areas in Law No. 41 of 1999 on Forestry and other relevant regulations (i.e., Government Regulation No. 44 of 2004, and MoF’s Decree No. 32 of 2001 and 50 of 2009) can be considered as one of the indirect causes of deforestation.

According to the KPK, this unclear definition and boundary of forest areas, coupled with the lack of applied fair procedure in designating forest areas, has weakened the legitimacy of 88.2 per cent of forest areas (more than 105.8 million hectares).

To make things worse, the KPK found that not all of these forest areas have been gazetted in law.

A study carried out by the MoF in 2009 concurs with this argument by stating that one of the indirect causes of deforestation is the difficulty of controlling the boundaries of production and protected forests, leaving them vulnerable to illegal logging.

This situation, according to the commission, has created a legal loophole for illegal loggers and illegal miners to continue their actions and avoid legal implications.

Another revelation by the KPK is that the division of authorities, roles and responsibilities among different layers of governments remains unclear and problematic, especially in determining forest areas in the spatial planning process.

In its study, the KPK found that an agreed synchronised map of forest areas which can be used by stakeholders does not as yet exist. Instead, there are at least four different versions which, utilising various scales, are not compatible with each other.

It is of course very challenging to resolve this given the variety of sectors that have interests in forest and land use — sectors which, furthermore, are regulated under different ministries and layers of government. These institutions are known to have issued overlapping policies on land use and land use changes, and influenced the issuance of different documents and maps of forest and land use.

For example, based on Law No. 41 of 1999, the authority to manage state forest is under the national-level MoF. The ministry has control over almost every activity in state forest and this law has repealed much of the authority decentralised under Law No. 22 of 1999 on Regional Governance.

This arrangement appears to be centralistic and contradict with the authority of local governments in their spatial planning under the decentralised system. As a result, there are often cases in which spatial planning which allocates forest areas at district level is contradictory with the planning at the higher ruling.

With de facto decentralisation processes, particularly in the forestry and land use sectors, occurring more quickly than de jure ones it is therefore imperative to deal with this issue seriously. The KPK has recommended the MoF to patch these legal loopholes, at the latest, by the end of this year. And, if REDD+ is to be actively and effectively carried out, it is urgent this advice is heeded.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is advisor to WWF Indonesia on climate and energy, a PhD candidate at the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University and a recipient of the Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award.

Original link: http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2011/01/27/fixing-legal-loopholes-in-indonesia%E2%80%99s-forest-and-land-use-governance/