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.

Advertisements

A review and outlook of Indonesia’s forest governance

Published in Coal Asia, January 22 – February 22, 2013, Page 86-87

by Fitrian Ardiansyah

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_JanFeb2013

CoalAsia_JanFeb2013_ForestThe year 2013 is here and when it comes to forest and land use governance, this year has replaced a period that was filled with seized opportunities, conquered challenges but also with shattered hopes and unrealized potentials.

In the yesteryear, Indonesia witnessed some interesting dynamics in forest and land use policies.

Firstly, these include the issuance of Kalimantan and Sumatra spatial planning (i.e. Presidential Regulation No. 3 and 13 of 2012). Based on these two policies, there is a clear mandate for the government to at least maintain, conserve, restore and sustainably manage 45 percent of remaining forests in Kalimantan and 40 percent in Sumatra.

These are ambitious targets, since the total forest cover loss for Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2000-2008 was 5.39 million hectares (representing 5.3 percent of the land area and 9.2 percent of the year 2000 forest cover in both islands) as revealed by researchers from South Dakota University and World Resources Institute in 2011.

In addition, according to a 2009 peer-reviewed scientific publication written by the two institutions which also collaborated with the Forestry Ministry and State University of New York, 40 percent of the lowland forests in both islands were cleared from 1990 to 2005.

Hence, to achieve its own targets in 2013 onward, the government would need all support it can get to see the desired changes on the ground, particularly from district and provincial governments. With a decentralized government system in place, district and provincial governments hold relatively more power and authority to manage and control their natural resources.

The latest story from Aceh could provide a good example. The new provincial government, as reported by Fairfax Media, for instance, has confirmed that a draft spatial plan was finalized. With massive development on forest and land has been placed as priority, the plan may lead to total forest cover reduction from about 68 percent of the province’s land mass to 45 percent.

Such situation could contradict and hamper a national policy milestone achieved in mid last year, which was the completion of the first year of Indonesia’s two-year moratorium on new permits for primary forest and peat-land clearing.

As many may have known, the first year of the moratorium was marked by continuous development and refinement of the moratorium-indicative map (MIM). In 2012 alone, the government has produced two latest versions of the MIM, version II and III.

Between these two maps (as well as with the first one), some discrepancies of forest figures, however, have occurred, as reported by the REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus) Task Force. Research institutions such as the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) showed that the area to be addressed in the latest version of MIM is much less (64.7 million hectares compare to the original 69.1 million). Although smaller, this area appears to have a higher degree of problems in terms of governance.

To respond to such criticism, the task force argued that such differences happened because different agencies involved in the MIM development, in which they have used different forest definitions and sources of maps.

Up to this point, these agencies were the Forestry Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the National Land Agency, the Geospatial Information Agency and the Presidential Office (UKP4). Since most key agencies have contributed – although the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry has yet to get officially involved – and many sectors and actors have tried to influence the process, it is understandable that synchronizing this one national map may require compromises, and hence may add or reduce relevant forest and land cover figures.

It is just the reality of life, i.e. negotiations and trade-offs on contentious issues would require ‘giving’ and ‘taking’ among sectors and actors. There will be winners and losers. A crucial question to answer is whether this negotiation process will result in greater benefits for the wider Indonesian public, which are, among others, productive but sustainable economy and much healthier environment.

Although may be considered as sub-optimal, this one-map development (in which four different agencies have agreed to consolidate their maps/data on land use) has contributed to the increase in the level of transparency, including increasing the level of public access to forest and land use data, as the MIM is uploaded online.

The case of peat swamp forest burning in Kuala Tripa for palm oil in Aceh’s Nagan Raya district reported by NGOs and media is an example of the importance of this map and the access given to the public to utilize the map. The wider public, NGOs and the media have reported this case and sent a letter to the Indonesian president. As a result, UKP4/the REDD+ Task Force and the Environment Ministry sent a fact-finding team, and the accused – a plantation company – is being prosecuted.

The willingness of different agencies to collaborate and share substantive data on forest and land use, albeit difficult, is encouraging.

Another example of collaborative works that can be further nurtured in 2013 is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry and the Forestry Ministry (No. 7662 of 2011) aiming at accelerating the permit issuance of geothermal energy development in forest areas. The MoU aims at addressing approximately 60 percent of geothermal energy potentials and reserves currently located in forest areas, as reported in 2009 by a senior high-ranking at Bappenas (the National Development Planning Agency).

It is, therefore, urgent under this MoU to develop standards, benchmarks and applied solutions that could and would balance geothermal energy development and forest protection.

A similar collaborative case that leads to appropriate solutions may be explored in areas which have conflicting interests between general energy/mining development and forest. Finding balanced solutions is a huge task, because based on a 2011 report by the Forestry Ministry, forest areas within mining concessions, which include for oil, gas and coal activities, cover approximately 2.03 million hectares.

Saying it as a huge task is perhaps an underestimate.

Indonesia’s political and governance system is not homogenous. While some government agencies may be willing to collaborate, others such as the parliament and local governments need to feel the ownership of such ‘ideal call’ to get involved. Otherwise, they may come strongly against it.

The strong voice from some factions of the parliament calling for the end of moratorium suggests that this important body in the Indonesian governance system may feel sidelined and do not see any benefits provided by the initiative.

Also, with the Constitutional Court recently has returned the authority to determine mining areas from the central government to local (mostly district) governments, for example, district governments appear to have more ‘say’ in forest and natural resources development.

The aforementioned less than ideal situation has undoubtedly brought about many challenges ahead, especially when it comes to sustainably managing and improving the country’s forest, land and natural resources.

Yet, changes are possible. It is, therefore, now up to all components of the Indonesian governance system to turn this around and make positive progress.

—-

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

Environment Day: A good day for RI’s forests?

The Jakarta Post, Opinion, Fitrian Ardiansyah, Canberra ACT | Mon, 13 June 2011. 6:44 PM

Original link:

This year’s World Environment Day, which sports the theme “Forests: Nature at your service” is likely to be celebrated in a more “colorful” way in Indonesia.

This may be due to the fact that in the last two weeks prior to June 5, three influential policies were issued by the government. These were two presidential decrees concerning forests and the most recent economic development master plan.

If not properly guided, managed and implemented, these three policies have the potential to be contradictory and hence could ruin a significant chance for Indonesia to sustainably manage its remaining valuable forests.

For instance, on Friday, May 20, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a presidential instruction number 10 of 2011 regarding a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests and peatland throughout Indonesia.

This long-awaited moratorium, which was intended to reduce deforestation, may provide a relative degree of certainty for pushing the overall program of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and land use management and development in Indonesia.

However, the decree has been met with polarized reactions and many believe it is a product of a heavy compromise.

The first issue to be debated has been the clarity of figures used as the basis for the moratorium.

According to the recent government data which may be based on an indicative map attached to the moratorium document, the moratorium would cover 64.2 million hectares of primary forests and 24.5 million hectares of peatland.

These figures appear to contradict earlier figures released by the government.

In February 2010, for example, the forestry minister himself stated that the remaining amount of primary forest in Indonesia was 43 million hectares.

In addition, the National Working Group on Peatland Management, a government taskforce led by the Home Ministry, estimated that in 2006 Indonesia had around 20 million hectares of peatland, distributed mainly in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua.

Observing the indicative map, another important aspect that needs to be scrutinized is that a significant percentage of the primary forests are already protected under Indonesian laws in the form of national parks and other conservation areas.

Several conservation organizations have said the moratorium will extend protection to only an additional 14 percent of primary forests.

Another critical dimension to this decree is that it only prohibits the issuance of new permits for logging, conversion and different types of exploitation of primary forests and peatlands.

The challenging question now is to calculate the size of areas of primary forests and peatlands that are already under old and existing concessions, or areas listed under “vital” development programs excluded by this moratorium, as stipulated in the decree.

We may all be surprised to see the exact number and size of these permits.

Another presidential decree released the day before, on May 19, allowing conditional underground mining in protected forest areas, for example, could further cloud the definition of what are regarded as “vital” activities that can continue to operate in primary forests.

Not only does the decree allow geothermal activities to be developed, but also possibly encourage other destructive mining activities to take place.

Furthermore, critics say the presidential instruction covers only primary forests and peatland, leaving out secondary forests.

Secondary forests in Indonesia cover an area of more than 20 million hectares and these areas have been constantly threatened by both legal and illegal logging activities and clearing for agricultural or industrial purposes.

If the government is serious about its commitment to reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent, it needs to comprehensively take into account its efforts in avoiding deforestation in primary and secondary forests as well as peatlands.

A crucial aspect which seems to have been left out is support for actors, sectors, regions or communities negatively impacted by the moratorium, for example in the form of alternative economic schemes, opportunities or technological or financial means.

As we may know, without comprehensive support for these parties, it may be very challenging to implement the moratorium in the field.

The government needs to send a clear signal, particularly to those who stand to lose as result of the moratorium, that they will be treated fairly.

There is a huge opportunity to use the last week’s published Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MP3EI) to tackle this challenge.

The government has informed the public it will invest around Rp200 trillion (US$23.4 billion) to develop six economic corridors promoting palm oil, rubber and other industries under the MP3EI program.

If it utilizes the MP3EI funding carefully, the government could assist planters, loggers and other land users to achieve more efficient and productive output when it comes to utilizing their land.

In the case of palm oil, according to a study conducted in 2007, if oil palm plantation productivity can be improved, there would be no need for the oil palm plantation sector to further expand its land usage, as growth in demand could be met by improving yields of existing plantations by 1.5-2.0 percent per year.

This intervention could poten-tially reduce the need to convert forests and peatlands to oil palm plantation.

If this opportunity is ignored and the MP3EI program is not synergized with the moratorium and vice versa, the parties not benefiting from the moratorium will use the economic development master plan as an excuse to continue their “business-as-usual” activities.

If this is the case, Indonesia and its people will still be struggling to achieve balanced development, promoting economic development on the one hand and taking care of the environment on the other.

As citizens of this country, we need to ensure that the government and influential parties make the right decision and that the Environment Day we celebrate this year is meaningful.

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

This article was re-published in East Asia Forum on 16 July 2011 at:

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2011/07/16/environment-day-a-good-day-for-ri-s-forests/