The challenges of environmental governance in a democratic and decentralized Indonesia

Authors: Fitrian Ardiansyah, Melati and Astari Anjani.

A book chapter (Chapter 6) in S Mukherjee & D Chakraborty (eds), Environmental Challenges and Governance: Diverse Perspective from Asia, Routledge (2015), Oxon.

Cover book

Please check this link to access the book and chapter:

Or see the pre-published version of this chapter:



Since the last decade, Indonesia appears to have increasingly put serious efforts into advancing its commitments in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The Government of Indonesia (GoIn) led by its president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, for instance, made a famous pledge at the G-20 meeting on 25 September 2009, stating that his government was devising a policy to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26 per cent by 2020 from business as usual (BAU) levels, and up to 41 per cent with international support (Melisa 2010). During his co-chairmanship for the United Nations High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Indonesian president re-affirmed the importance of environmental protection along with economic development and poverty alleviation (President of Indonesia 2012b).

To achieve its commitment for environmental protection and climate change mitigation, the GoIn has combined various approaches including by issuing domestic policies and programs, and providing economic incentives as well as reforming existing institutions and establishing new ones. A number of regulations and policies were issued by the GoIn on this front and the GoIn set up new agencies, in addition to existing ministries, to help deal with environmental issues. The GoIn has also attempted to provide economic incentives for environmental protection and climate change mitigation (Dhewanthi 2012).

Environmental degradation as elaborated in the following section, however, has continued to affect and threaten all aspects of Indonesian development and people’s lives. The forest and land fires during 2013 and their associated haze, which affected neighboring countries, is a good example of how an environmental disaster not only has disturbed the local economy and health conditions of local people but also can transform the relations of neighboring countries in Southeast Asia into one of the worst in the history of the region (Ardiansyah 2013).

The GoIn’s commitments to protect the country’s environment are ambitious, and to achieve the desired outcomes, it will need all support it can get. Indonesia’s political and governance system, however, is not homogenous. While some government agencies may be willing to collaborate, others such as local governments need to feel the ownership of such ‘ideal call’ and see concrete benefits to get involved. Since decentralization took place in the early millennium, significant powers now rest with the district and municipal governments, including in managing natural resources and the environment. This chapter, therefore, explores key challenges in realizing the country’s environmental management commitments in the current governance context. Prior to discussing regulations and institutions established to address environmental challenges in Indonesia, the following section briefly touches on the country’s state of environment and current challenges that Indonesia has to face. The third section provides an analysis of regulations and policies on the environment and other relevant regulations and policies. This section also examines the interconnection of these different regulations. Section four analyzes roles of different government actors or institutions, and non-state actors, namely civil society groups and the private sector when it comes to environmental management of the country. This section discusses the complexity, challenges and opportunities for these different actors and institutions to collaborate in managing the environment and natural resources in the country. This section also emphasizes the importance of the current decentralized governmental system and the challenges resulting from this system for the country’s environmental management. With an increase in the level of authority of sub-national governments, formulating policies, designing programs and coordinating programmatic implementation of environmental management across more than 400 districts in Indonesia are Herculean tasks for the GoIn. The chapter concludes with remarks that may help further reform in Indonesia’s environmental governance.

Keywords: Indonesia, decentralization, environmental governance, forest and land use governance, legal framework.


Forest and land-use governance in a decentralized Indonesia: A legal and policy review

By Fitrian Ardiansyah, Andri Akbar Marthen and Nur Amalia, published by Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), 2015. Please quote as:

Ardiansyah F, Marthen AA and Amalia N. 2015. Forest and land-use governance in a decentralized Indonesia: A legal and policy review. Occasional Paper 132. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.

for the pdf version (988kb), please see: OP-132_Ardiansyah et al_2015



This report is a legal and policy review of the powers of key government agencies and lower-level governments and the relations among these different agencies at different levels (e.g. the relationship between the local and central governments) in forest and related sectors. The focus of this review is to identify a particular government agency or level of government that has the legal power to make resource decisions in different spheres related to forests, land use affecting forests and/or benefit sharing, including REDD+. It aims to provide an understanding of the legal basis for the powers of such agencies or a level of government. The review also examines different key actors in each sphere (including whether these agencies can make certain decisions according to the laws and regulations), the differences among agencies, and the scope of authority of lower-level governments.

The review in this report contains an introduction and four main sections. The first (Section 2) describes the division of responsibilities and power across the different levels of government. It provides a general overview of powers (e.g. the extent to which they are permitted to legislate or make decisions) and responsibilities as established by decentralization laws and policy, budget distribution as established by law, and other relevant aspects. This section addresses issues related to the overview of different levels of government in Indonesia, including the evolution and process of decentralization; the definition, scale and scope of regional autonomy/decentralization powers; the powers shared among agencies at different levels; and other relevant aspects.

The second section (Section 3) is on financial resource mechanisms and distribution. It serves as a background for the on-the-ground study of benefit-sharing mechanisms (e.g. actual and potential with regard to REDD+). This section seeks to address issues related to the arrangement of financial resources and the powers and responsibilities over them assigned and distributed among the different levels of government. Such responsibilities include forest fees and other royalties, as well as any existing benefit or incentive schemes (e.g. payment for ecosystem services, or PES) aimed at maintaining forests or promoting sustainable forest management or REDD+.

Section 4 describes the role that different levels of government play by law in the following list of land-use decision or policy arenas affecting forests: (1) spatial and land use planning, (2) defining the vocation of the land and conversion rights, (3) the titling of agricultural land, (4) the titling of indigenous land within forest areas, (5) the governments’ ownership and administration of the land, (6) natural protected areas, (7) mining concessions, (8) forest concessions, (9) oil palm, and (10) infrastructure. This section uses summary tables as far as possible, describing the division of responsibilities among the different levels of government, including in the making of formal decisions, which procedures are used, and the division and balance of powers across functions (i.e. in establishing policy and norms, authorizing, administering, controlling and monitoring, and auditing).

The last section (Section 5) further explains the role and opportunities for indigenous (adat) law. This includes a review of the definition of adat law and the legal basis for communities making land claims based on such law. This section discusses challenges and opportunities for adat law to be further recognized in the Indonesian legal system.

Original link:

Can we realize a ‘sustainable landscape’?

By Fitrian Ardiansyah, published in Coal Asia, 25 January – 25 February 2015, page 142-144

for the pdf version (584kb), please see: Coal Asia 51_Fitrian Ardiansyah_ISLA_143-144_Jan-Feb2015

Coal Asia 51

The global population and the demand for food, fiber and fuel are sharply on the rise. As a consequence, there is a constant question whether our human civilization can meet such demand while ensuring that our resources, landscape and ecosystems can be sustainably managed for the long-term.

In Indonesia alone, the Agriculture Ministry projects that there are 23.3 million tons of rice needed in 2015 and 28.1 million in 2030 to meet the demand of 255 million and 308 million people in the corresponding years. It is clear that threats to food security will grow as the population continues to soar and economic activities develop, while land availability becomes more limited.

Indonesia’s primary energy supply and demand per capita show that the country remains relatively strong in the context of energy security issues, indicated by a sufficient energy provision per capita. Data in 2013, however, show that the average growth of supply was only 3.5%, below the average growth of demand at 4%. Without proper interventions and measures, Indonesia is likely to have an energy security issue in the future.

Development of Indonesia’s land and resources is also driven by the global demand. Palm oil is a prime example of this. The skyrocketing global demand for vegetable oils has pushed land development all over the tropics including in Indonesia. Currently, this commodity is grown on 16.4 million hectares worldwide and more than majority of the production is in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Global and domestic demand for coal, to some extent to compensate the shift from oil dependency, has dramatically increased the production of coal. This is indicated by a persistent growth of production of coal, with the proportion of export reaching above 90% in the period of 2007-2009, as reported by the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry in 2012.

Meeting such demand would require Indonesia to continue exploiting its resources and land. These development activities would certainly impact on local communities and our remaining fragile ecosystems.

The development agricultural, forestry and energy sectors contribute to the country’s economy but at the same time, as a result, water, land and other natural resources are becoming scarcer.

The use of water for agriculture, mining and industry means increased competition among cities, industrial estates and farmers. Concerns are also growing about the large-scale overdraft of groundwater and water contamination from agricultural runoff, and industrial and mining waste.

The increased use of land, the conversion of forests and the extraction of natural resources, mean continuous deforestation, and ecosystems and land degradation. In addition to direct forest or ecosystem conversion, poor soil management practices, frequent use of heavy machinery and improper use of technology lead to a significant reduction in the productive capacity of land.

Furthermore, the growth of land use and land use change can create disputes over land rights and ownership leading to conflicts, with other land users, local and indigenous communities.

Deforestation and the expansion of land for agricultural, industrial and mining use also exacerbates climate change, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, from draining peat lands and clearing natural forests.

Based on the above situation and future trends, initiatives to address land and water issues in the context of landscapes are urgently needed to be developed and realized. Such initiatives ought to be inclusive and more importantly acknowledging the role of agricultural, industrial and mining production as contributors to problems as well as solutions.

There are an increasing number of commodity companies, linking to international market, that have developed initiatives to mitigate their direct impacts on land and water through supply chain management initiatives. There are also mining companies and associations that produce best management practices and industrial codes regarding land, forest and water management.

These sustainability standard attempt to incorporate indicators that impact social, land and water parameters beyond the production area. But these standards primarily regulate practices in farming, forest and mining concessions so that these concessions or firms can be certified. Areas outside the concessions, including important ecosystems in the buffer zone, wildlife corridors, and land utilized for indigenous communities may not be incorporated or supported.

In the context of a landscape, these corporate sustainability standards contribute to the betterment of environmental management, but only in concession areas. Such standards may leave huge gaps and still lead to undesirable environmental and social impacts for a particular landscape.

Landscapes are patchworks of interlinked pieces of land, ecosystems, water and species (including human). It is, therefore, important for the existing sustainability standards and corporations that are involved in such standards to invite and work together with other corporations, government bodies, organizations and communities to realize a better environmentally managed landscape.

Realizing a healthy mosaic landscape requires a challenging multi-stakeholder approach. This is because ownership of, responsibility for, and impact on a landscape lie in the hands of a multitude of stakeholders.

Also, different stakeholder groups (such as local and regional governments, companies from various sectors, local farmers and communities) can have very different perspectives and thus different incentives to want to look beyond their own direct interest.

Front-runners of sustainability, both from corporations, government bodies and civil society groups, need to join forces so that an initiative to promote sustainability at a landscape level can be realized firmly.

They can act as ‘movers and shakers’ in convening different stakeholders and garnering support from them, building public-private-NGOs-community partnerships as a way to transform agribusiness and energy markets to sustainability, from a bottom-up landscape level.

At a landscape level, for such movement to be successful, a shared-vision and model of sustainable land and water management need to be formulated and agreed by different stakeholders. These vision and model are crucial to be used as the basis for addressing issues and finding solutions at the landscape level.

Government regulations and relevant legal framework and innovative incentives are also imperative to ensure that this landscape initiative can be sustained in a longer term and land users can be supported.

If a sustainable landscape initiative can be matched with existing sustainability standards at the global and national levels, learning, innovation and improvement can be generated and desirable environmental and social impacts can be achieved.

If this is the case, a viable governance model from the landscape to global level that supports sustainable practices is not only considered feasible but may well be one of key solutions that many stakeholders involved in land-related development sectors have been searching for.


The writer is climate and sustainability specialist, and the new Indonesia Country Director for IDH-The Sustainable Trade Initiative since March 2015. He can be reached at

Decentralization and avoiding deforestation: the case of Indonesia

“Decentralization and avoiding deforestation: the case of Indonesia”. Authors: Fitrian Ardiansyah and Frank Jotzo.

A book chapter (Chapter 9) in S. Howes & MG Rao (eds), Federal Reform Strategies: Lessons from Asia and Australia, Oxford University Press (2013), Oxford.

Please check this link to access the chapter: 

Or see the pre-published version of this chapter:



Indonesia has undergone far-reaching political, administrative and fiscal decentralization over the last decade. Significant powers now rest with the district level including the management of natural resources and the environment. A large share of state revenue goes to district governments. Deforestation has been a part and parcel of Indonesia’s economic development and it is the principal source of Indonesia’s large greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia has committed to curb its greenhouse gas emissions, mostly through reduced deforestation. We assess challenges and options for avoiding deforestation under the decentralized system, using Indonesia’s fiscal transfer system. We find that schemes for improving land management and deforestation need to be structured around the interests of local governments and actors. Positive incentives for local governments will need to be created to compensate them for foregone profits and to facilitate alternative development. This could be done through intergovernmental transfers, using either outcome-based or input-based payment schemes.

Keywords: Indonesia, decentralization, avoiding deforestation, REDD+ programme, forest and land use governance, intergovernmental fiscal transfers

Federal Reform Strategies$

Flooding: looking beyond Jakarta

by Fitrian ArdiansyahErik Meijaard and Jessie Wells, published in The Jakarta Globe, 4 December 2013, Opinion.

Original link:

Anyone living in Jakarta is more than familiar with the huge impacts of flooding, and the need for greater efforts for prevention and management. And yet, when it comes to the focus and support from the government for these actions, Jakarta may be more “fortunate” compared to other parts of the country that suffer from frequent floods, such as Kalimantan.

Heavy tropical rainfall causes flooding nearly everywhere in the Indonesian archipelago. According to the recent projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in the coming decades Indonesia may receive less rainfall between July and October, but increased rains (and higher intensities) are expected during the wet season.

A combination of continuing environmental degradation (e.g. through deforestation and erosion), climate change that leads to sea level rise and extreme weather events, and poor infrastructure, has increased the urgency for Indonesia to address flooding issues not only through emergency response, but pro-actively through land use planning, mitigation and adaptation.

Some government agencies at the national and sub-national levels, including the Jakarta government, appear to be increasingly aware of the significant social and economic impacts that flooding can have, and are starting to take steps to reduce risks and mitigate impacts.

Others are yet to take action. In Kalimantan, for example, the government and key stakeholders need to make a dramatic shift away from their current business-as-usual approach to development and reactive approach to flooding, to avoid severe impacts that risk collapse of the island’s economic and humanitarian systems.

More than 20 major rivers flow through Kalimantan. Disturbances to the hydro-climatic systems, ecosystems and land use in the catchment areas of these rivers will have serious consequences for the island’s water supplies, transportation networks, and the capacity of its people to further develop their economies and moderate the impacts of droughts and fires.

With regard to flooding, a recent study titled Forests, Floods, People and Wildlife on Borneo showed that problems caused by flooding in Kalimantan are much larger than previously recognized, that flood risks are being exacerbated by trends in climate, land use and urbanization, and that urgent and forward-thinking actions are needed to address these issues.

This study, published by the United Nations Environment Program, estimates that between April 2010 and 2013, media-reported flood events inundated between 197,000 and 360,000 houses in Kalimantan, and displaced between 776,000 and 1.5 million people. The authors emphasize that these are conservative estimates, since many events go unreported, and independent surveys in 354 villages indicated that flooding occurred annually or even more frequently in at least 49 percent of villages in the island — with large social and economic impacts.

This study also found that 18 percent of villages experienced an increase in flood frequencies over the past 30 years. Increases in flood frequencies were primarily concentrated in the middle Mahakam area in East Kalimantan, the lower and middle reaches of the Barito, Kahayan, Sampit and Lamandau Rivers in South and Central Kalimantan, and the low-lying swamps around the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan. Reports of increasing flood frequencies were also strongly associated with increased turbidity and declines in water quality.

These are all areas with high human population densities and increasing agricultural developments, indicating that future economic impacts of flooding could be larger still.

One important aspect specifically explored in the study is the link between deforestation and changes in flood frequencies. The study concludes that it is not possible yet to understand the full picture of the complex relationships between land cover, topography and flooding, but the data indicate that increases in flooding were most likely in areas that have experienced more extensive deforestation for oil palm development, or severe degradation through logging and fires.

Such findings are important for Indonesia’s land use policies. Indonesia’s regulations (including Agriculture Ministry Decree No. 837 of 1980), have provided guidance for identifying lands that play an important role in watershed protection, based on considerations of slope, soil type and rainfall intensity.

However, vast areas of lands that meet these criteria have not been gazetted with any protection status such as protection forest (hutan lindung), but instead have been given out to industrial logging or other development activities incompatible with maintaining their hydrological functions. Such areas include large areas of Kalimantan’s forests on steep slopes or on deep peats, which continue to be converted despite the consequences.

The recent moratorium policy on forest and peat land conversion issued by the national government provides an opportunity for remaining areas to be protected, conserved and sustainably managed.

Taking up this opportunity will require governments at each level to effectively implement and monitor existing policies; to strengthen capacities for landscape planning that sustains the vital functions of watersheds, alongside other ecosystem benefits and economic developments; and to integrate land use planning with local preventive measures for flooding and adaptation to flooding regimes.

Otherwise, flooding impacts associated with deforestation and forest degradation in Kalimantan are only going to get worse.

In addition, rapid migration and urban expansion in the coastal and riverine lowlands affects both the likelihood of flood events (e.g. through altered hydrology and land subsidence), and amplifies the likely impacts of those events on larger and more concentrated populations of vulnerable people. Trends toward urbanization are likely to continue, and so an urgent and sustained effort is needed to reduce the impacts of urban and upstream development on flood risks, and to make settlements as resilient as possible to the risks that remain.

The government needs to act urgently. Agus Purnomo, a member of the Special Staff to the Indonesian President on Climate Change and the head of the secretariat of the National Council on Climate Change, states that many weather-related disasters in Indonesia, such as flooding and landslides, are having increasing impacts. He further argues that it is not only new policies that Indonesia requires, but also increased capacity, sufficient resources and adequate technology to address this issue.

Such comprehensive thinking, however, needs to be translated and supported at the local level, particularly in Kalimantan’s political agendas. Reading local newspapers, one wonders whether politicians in Kalimantan share similar concerns, since most discussions or actions related to flooding focus on mitigation through hard infrastructure (e.g. flood defenses), and appear to neglect efforts for hazard reduction or prevention (e.g. maintaining forested watersheds and improving infrastructure) or risk-reduction and adaptation.

It is time for government to put into effect its own, existing policies, including the government’s commitments to sustaining essential watershed functions, to reducing emissions from land use, and to maintaining at least 45 percent of Kalimantan’s land area as forest (Presidential Decree No. 3 of 2012).

To achieve this, the national government, through its Forestry Ministry, Environment Ministry and recently established REDD+ Agency (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, plus conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks), needs to enhance collaboration with local governments to enable land use planning that integrates the multiple functions of landscapes, including rigorously identifying which forests should be protected from development and which areas can be sustainably used or developed, and how.

The One Map Initiative, for example, can be used to guide the process on the ground so that needs for economic development can be met in concert with (rather than at a cost to) environmental protection and ecosystem services.

It is essential for the government and key stakeholders to show that the country’s commitments to addressing deforestation, climate change and disaster risks are concrete and meaningful. With this, as a society, we can hope that Indonesia will be able to beat the flooding challenge.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University and program development director at Pelangi Indonesia.

Erik Meijaard is a long-term Indonesia-based conservation scientist leading the Borneo Futures initiative as a consultant for People and Nature Consulting International.

Jessie Wells is a postdoc at the Environmental Decisions Group, University of Queensland, researching hydrological ecosystem services in Kalimantan.