Responsible mining: Is it possible?

Published in Coal Asia, June 11 – July 20, 2013, page 96-97

by Fitrian Ardiansyah

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_JuneJuly2013


Although considered as a significant contributor to the economy of many countries, the mining sector or industry is arguably one of the most heavily criticized industries in the world when it comes to environmental and social protection. It is, therefore, a huge challenge to find an appropriate solution that could balance mining development and environmental performance.

A 2003 study conducted by the World Resources Institute reveals that approximately one-third of the world’s active mines and exploration sites are located in intact ecosystems of high conservation values.

In Indonesia, it may be difficult to know the exact number and location of mining licenses. A 2004 article in Inside Indonesia written by Dianto Bachriadi suggests that the majority of mining activities occur within the national forest estate (i.e. forest controlled by the Forestry Ministry).

Researchers from the Australian National University, in their 2012 paper, estimate that prior to 2000, there were only approximately 600 mining licenses in Indonesia, but by 2010, more than 10,000 licenses had been issued. According to the same study, many of these licenses were issued by local governments and potentially overlap with other permits previously issued over the same area.

The mining sector in Indonesia has been blessed with major investments, and along the way continuously contributing to the country’s growth domestic products (GDP) significantly. A 2011 news from Business Wire reports that the mining sector accounted for 10.8% of Indonesia’s GDP in 2009, with minerals and related products contributing one-fifth of the country’s total exports.

The same news projects that the industry looks set to post strong average annual double- digit growth of 11.2% in real terms over the forecast period to reach US$149.8 billion in 2015. With the increase in coal and mineral mining’s contribution to the total government revenue (a 6% increase in 2009 compared to 2000), it is expected that mining licenses will be issued in a wider sense.

Should this growth continue, without substantial improvement of the level of environmental performance and commitment to social responsibility made by the mining industry, criticisms towards the industry may rise.

For decades, many research institutions and environmental organizations have published reports documenting negative environmental impacts of mining activities.

In these reports, they argue that land clearing for the development of new mining sites and associated infrastructure is viewed as a direct cause of deforestation and habitat destruction in Indonesia. In particular, the most immediate impact on forests from mining activities is the removal of forest vegetation.

One of such reports is a 2000 study conducted by William Sunderlin and Sven Wunder. The study shows that there is a statistically significant relationship between the amount of mineral exports and rate of deforestation in Indonesia during the period of 1976 to 1980.

Another study focusing on Papua and Kalimantan, for instance, supports the previous study by stating that gold and copper mining activities in these two major islands had massive environmental impacts on surrounding forests since 1990s.

Other reports reveal that not only the development of mining will result in negative impacts on forest but also on other ecosystems and the society. These include contamination of rivers used for drinking water and food supplies, and increasing social conflict over access to mineral resources.

With a number of environmental organizations claiming that as of 2005, mining activities have encroached on or threatened 11.4 million hectares of forest in Indonesia, including 8.68 million hectares of protection forests and 2.8 million hectares of conservation areas, an increase in the level of criticisms towards the mining industry appears to be understandable.

In this regard, a proactive approach from the mining industry, particularly in promoting the application of responsible mining practices could be seen as a good initial step leading to a credible balanced solution.

The industry argues that this approach can somehow show that it can leave positive long-term legacies by ensuring the protection of the environment, before, during and after the mining operations take place. A number of different initiatives of responsible mining practices include measures which minimize harm to the environment, recognize human rights and indigenous people’s needs and aspirations, as well as promote greater social and governance accountability.

With a varying degree of successes, the implementation of such initiatives has taken place in Australia, Mongolia, Indonesia and other countries.

A few environmental organizations and local social development organizations are beginning to embrace the initiative and trying to work together with companies and governments to apply the initiative and monitor it.

In a large country such as Indonesia, in which 842 licenses for mining exploration and exploitation have been given between 2005 and 2011 by the Forestry Ministry, covering approximately 2.03 million hectares of forests, the application of the initiative at a larger level and the inclusion of wider stakeholders such as governments, indigenous people and  local environmental organizations are likely key to further success of the initiative.

If the initiative is implemented only at a small scope or scale, one would argue that any best practices resulting from the initiative may not necessarily be applicable to other areas in the country. If there is a bigger platform endorsed by wider stakeholders supporting the initiative, best practices resulting from it may likely be applicable to other areas or could be magnified at the national level.

To be able to undertake and achieve this, trust needs to be developed among different stakeholders, who previously perhaps have negative perceptions toward the industry. Open and transparent discussions need to commence so that any results would be perceived credible and gain wider supports.

Another important factor for any responsible mining initiative to be considered as a serious endeavour is that it should also be feeding back to the country’s legal and government system. As Indonesia is reforming its land use and forestry management by issuing a set of different policies, the initiative needs to positively influence this process and be a major counterpart.

Using a platform of responsible mining initiative, the mining industry has a good opportunity more than ever to show that not only it has the right intention to contribute to the sustainable development of Indonesia, but also a possible approach to make it happen.

Actors in the mining industry, however, need to give wholehearted support to the initiative and collaboratively engage other stakeholders to build trust so that others will be convinced that this is a serious undertaking.

If this is the case, responsible mining practices, although it may not be a perfect solution, is likely viewed as the right step towards it.


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

Indonesia’s fires: a hazy challenge for Southeast Asia

Published in East Asia Forum, July 8th, 2013
Author: Fitrian Ardiansyah, ANU,Original link:

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.

A critical year for REDD in Indonesia

Published in The Jakarta Post, Opinion, page 6 | Mon, 01/10/2011 9:36 AM |

Fitrian Ardiansyah and Aditya Bayunanda, Canberra

The new year has begun and the need to deal with environmental degradation, including deforestation, have become more pressing than before, yet the challenges are greater than ever.

For a few decades, Indonesia has paid a high price in terms of economic, environmental and social costs as well as negative reputation for the continued obscurity of policies to curb deforestation and a less than encouraging record in managing natural resources.

As part of efforts to alter this, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2009 stated that his government was devising a policy that would cut the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from “business as usual” levels. A significant portion contributing to this would come from reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

To politically and financially back up REDD+ development and implementation in this country, a letter of intent (LoI) was signed by the Indonesian and Norwegian governments in Oslo in late May last year.

The LoI came with a pledged provision of US$1 billion for Indonesia. This could be considered as the biggest single support any country has given Indonesia to date in the area of environmental management and climate change, and a significant initial step toward saving Indonesia’s peatlands and natural forests.

To show that he was serious in addressing the issue of deforestation and giving a boost to the REDD+ platform, the Indonesian President in Oslo also announced his commitment to halting all new concessions for the conversion of peatlands and natural forests in two years, supposed to start in January 2011.

January has arrived and after approximately seven months of continuous public discourses and reviews within the relevant ministries as well as inside UKP4 — a special presidential delivery unit charged with managing this LoI — the government is yet to produce a clear strategy and legal framework to support this initiative.

One sign of progress is the formation of a special taskforce that has a mandate to establish a special agency that will report directly to the President and coordinate the efforts pertaining to the development and implementation of REDD+.

Another recent development following this LoI, which happened just before the turn of the year, was the selection of Central Kalimantan province as a province-wide REDD+ pilot.

However, these moves are far from sufficient and adequate to show that Indonesia has a credible REDD+ platform.

Credibility is a key part of all REDD+ schemes that are being employed internationally. Credibility cannot be achieved without a firm national strategy and clear framework as well as legal certainty that support REDD+.

Furthermore, the absence of these aspects will hinder the development of national monitoring, reporting and verification system for GHG emissions coming from forests and peatlands – as stipulated in the LoI.

More importantly, tackling deforestation and land use changes involves different layers of governments and various sectors and actors.

These sectors are regulated under different ministries (i.e. forestry, agriculture, energy and mineral resources, and public works) and layers of governments. These institutions are known to have issued overlapping policies on land use and land use changes.

There are cases in which spatial and land use planning at the district level are different to if not contradictory with the planning at the provincial or national level.

Early in December last year, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) released the outcome of its study on forestry policies and systems. The KPK found an unclear definition of forest areas in Law No. 41/1999 on Forestry and a number of other relevant regulations.

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

According to the KPK’s findings, the division of authority, roles and responsibilities among different layers of governments remains unclear and problematic, especially in determining forest areas in a spatial planning process.

This situation has led to legal uncertainty, which is a prerequisite for serious investment in sustainable forest management and land use as well as community-based forest managed by local and indigenous people, which would support the country’s sustainable development.

It is therefore essential for the government to immediately come up with an initial but clear regulation (e.g. government regulation or higher ruling), strategy and framework that indicate the high level of seriousness to solve the uncertainty of land use systems, planning and coordination.

Substance-wise, this legal backing for REDD+ needs to prioritize the termination of  the conversion of natural forests, peatlands and other terrestrial ecosystems that are rich in carbon and have significant ecological and social values, but are at risk of being converted or destructively logged.

The legal framework backing up REDD+ is also required to clearly state that halting deforestation will not hinder development in other sectors.

On the other hand, a good regulation on REDD+ would create the urgency needed for the country to arrive with decisions over conflicting land use that have remained unresolved and have disrupted development, despite the fact that the Forestry Law stipulates this issue should be completed by the end of last year.

This overall process must be seen as a step forward to reform natural resource management of the country.

With or without foreign aid, the country’s future depends so much on the development path that we choose today.

Embarking on a sustainable path may be daunting but it is imperative for Indonesia, for the sake of its economy, environment and, most importantly, people.

Fitrian Ardiansyah is an advisor to WWF-Indonesia on climate and Aditya Bayunanda is Forest Trade Network manager of WWF-Indonesia.

Original link: