Getting the governance right to achieve sustainable land use management

By Fitrian Ardiansyah, published in Coal Asia, September 4 – October 20, 2013, page 86-87

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_SepOct2013

CoalAsia_SepOct2013_getting the governanceTo have a well-managed landscape in Indonesia, it is clear that any particular policy or strategy formulated by the government must take into account and engage key development sectors involved in land management. These include, among others, forestry, agriculture, mining and infrastructure development.

Prior to discussing potential realistic solutions, however, one needs to understand the institutional framework – the governance – that oversees the land use in the country.

As many reports and studies have revealed, deforestation and land degradation in Indonesia are exacerbated by a lack of law enforcement; insufficient economic incentives for communities, private sector and local governments; and a lack of capacity in institutions responsible for managing these areas.

In 2006, for instance, a report released by the National Working Group on Peatland Management pointed out that although several areas of peat lands were supposed to be protected by law, the reality is that these areas have been logged, drained and converted because there is no or poor enforcement for this particular law.

Such situation has been dubbed one of the main causes for the recurrence of forest and land fires taking place in Sumatra and Kalimantan annually.

Another report in the same year shows that insufficient economic incentives would also accelerate deforestation. This report, published by the World Bank, argues that positive incentives are required and must go hand-in-hand with forest law enforcement and governance initiatives to increase the costs of non-compliance.

Insufficient incentives, on the other hand, would not result in a long term investment in and stewardship of forests and production facilities which are important to ensure the reduction of deforestation and land degradation.

When it comes to capacity in managing the remaining forests and important terrestrial ecosystems in the country, some studies reveal that Indonesia has been struggling in adequately protecting and sustainably managing its large forest areas.

Under Law No. 41 of 1999 on Forestry, the authority to manage approximately 100 million hectares of forest estate is more or less granted to the national-level forestry ministry who defines forest land use classifications, management, and permitted activities for forest areas.

In the past, centralized administration of forests appears to have had little effective management capacity, accountability, monitoring, or enforcement of access, practices, or outcomes in the field, leading to a high annual rate of deforestation.

A 2009 study carried out by the forestry ministry states that one of the indirect causes of deforestation is the difficulty of maintaining and monitoring large boundaries of production and protection forests, leaving these areas vulnerable to illegal logging.

According to Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in 2011, this situation has somewhat created a legal loophole for illegal loggers and illegal miners to continue their actions while avoiding legal consequences.

Dr Matthew Hansen and his team from South Dakota University in their 2009 study seem to support this argument by showing that between 1990 and 2000 Indonesia experienced 1.7 million hectares of annual deforestation rate and 0.7 million for the period of 2000-2005.

It is understandable that for a big country having large forest areas like Indonesia, a mere centralized system of forest monitoring is likely to be insufficient. Additional and strengthened decentralized forest management is required.

One of the mandates from the 1999 Forestry Law, as further defined by Government Regulation No. 6 of 2007, is that Indonesia’s forest estates shall be divided into forest management units (FMUs). These FMUs will be classified as having a specific function for protection, conservation, or production.

Local governments, under the coordination with the forestry ministry, are then given the responsibility to establish organizations to manage FMUs within their respective geographic areas of governance.

This arrangement, if done properly, not only can provide more decentralized forest management but also would bring about improvement of existing management of forest estates, especially since forest areas in Indonesia are extensive and it would be difficult to manage these in a strictly centralized way.

A number of organizations have argued that Indonesia needs to reform its current forest and land use governance, if the country hopes to successfully address the dynamic issues of forest and land use change.

In addition to issues between layers of governments, such dynamic situation mostly has resulted from to the overlapping of rights, authorities, roles and responsibilities among different developmental sectors.

In a 2010 study published by the KPK, unclear and problematic claims over forest and land areas, have led to difficulties in determining forest estates in the spatial planning and other development planning process.

In this study, the KPK found that an agreed synchronized map of forest areas which could be used by stakeholders did not as yet exist. Instead, there were at least four different versions which, utilizing various scales, were not compatible with each other.

This was perhaps one of the reasons why the Indonesian government through its REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus) task force formulated one consolidated forest and peat land map, in collaboration with the forestry ministry and other key ministries and agencies, in the beginning of its work period.

Even with one agreed map, it is of course still very challenging to resolve any conflicting issues given the variety of interests of key developmental sectors in forest and land use.

Therefore, continuous work with key actors from these sectors, including corporations, local communities and civil society, in appropriately addressing the overlapping claims and authorities should become a priority.

The outcome of this continuous work hopefully would lead to the improvement of the governance and institutional framework of land use Indonesia and smooth the development of sustainable forest management.

Improving the governance and institutions of land use in Indonesia, however, requires exploration of options and incentives, which should satisfy the interests of those different but influential sectors.

The challenging question that needs to be answered further is: “What sort of options and incentives are available to help the country to retain its remaining forests while at the same time still allow its economy to grow?”

Finding the right incentives will never be easy. The government can create additional budget for encouraging sustainable management of forest and land use, and channel this through its intergovernmental fiscal transfer system.

Yet, such approach may not be sufficient and may not reach the targeted actors, i.e. influential local/ indigenous communities and/or private corporations. Dialogues that lead to a formulation of partnerships with communities and/or corporations need to be encouraged since without concrete involvement of these actors, actions to better manage forest and land could be meaningless.

Such dialogues and partnerships usually require the creation of the level of playing field, and the improvement of the level of transparency and accountability.

This is a big task for a country that has embraced an open democratic system in just more than a decade. But if the country can create such enabling environment, strong cross-sectoral coordination in forest and land use management may not be utopia anymore.

If key actors in the developmental sectors feel that their interests are represented and accommodated equitably, any forest and land use policy is likely to be endorsed and supported widely.

Taking into account the aforementioned considerations, it is now timely for the country to continue to get its governance right to achieve better land use management. No action or lack of it could well mean future disaster for the country that values its forest and land resources highly.


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.


Improved governance crucial to protect our most pristine forests

by Fitrian Ardiansyah and Erik Meijaard, published in The Jakarta Globe, 20 September 2013, Opinion.

Original link:

A recent regulation issued by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the National REDD+ [reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus] Agency shows the government’s continuous willingness to better manage our environment. Yet, it also triggers an interesting question about whether the establishment of this new agency is sufficient to save our remaining forests.

Indonesia is one of the most important countries in the world for biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, and has more species than all other countries but Brazil. Also, because of its unique geology, the country has very high levels of endemism: species occur here but nowhere else.

Indonesia and its population have every reason to be proud of their incredible natural heritage. Nevertheless, more serious and comprehensive efforts appear to be needed to ensure that this heritage can be sustained and enjoyed by future generations too.

In Indonesia, some of the most pristine forests have been gazetted as protected areas. These are the cornerstone of ecosystem and wildlife conservation, and to a large extent, have provided human populations with valuable goods and services, including water and local climate regulation.

Protected areas are supposed to provide a safe haven for endangered animal and plant life, away from the human threats, such as over-exploitation and disturbance. In this country, however, the reality seems different. Two recent studies, for instance, found that Indonesian protected areas had suffered from significant deforestation between 2000 and 2010.

A study by Douglas Fuller of the University of Miami and colleagues — in press in the Indonesian Journal of Nature Conservation — is likely the first-ever assessment looking at all terrestrial protected areas in Indonesia, including national parks, and nature and wildlife reserves. The study reveals that between 2000 and 2010 these areas lost 3,700 square kilometers of forest, equaling about half the greater metropolitan area of Jakarta.

When it comes to the status of the areas, deforestation rates in nature and wildlife reserves were about twice as high as those in national parks. Such different deforestation rates may be due to the fact that national parks have been slightly better equipped with funds, human resources and technology compared to other protected areas.

A second study published in the journal PLOS ONE, and led by David Gaveau of the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, confirms similar findings.

This study assessed forest loss in Kalimantan between 2000 and 2010. An estimated 303,525 square kilometers or 57 percent of Kalimantan’s land area was covered by natural forest in 2000, of which 14,212 square kilometers had been cleared by 2010. Forests in oil palm concessions had been reduced by 5,600 square kilometers, while the figures for logging concessions are 1,336 square kilometers and for protected forests 1,122 square kilometers. The remaining deforestation happened in land with other uses, such as small-scale agriculture.

In relative terms the study showed that deforestation rates in timber concessions and protected areas were not significantly different. This is a surprising finding since timber removal is obviously allowed in logging concessions but not in protected areas.

This finding, however, can provide a crucial suggestion. This could mean regardless of the status of forests — either production or conservation and unless not changed to conversion forest — as long the areas are well managed, deforestation can be largely avoided.

Under Indonesian laws, logging concessions have to be managed sustainably and remain permanently forest-covered. If these concessions are well-managed, they can continuously function as wildlife habitats and host a wide range of forest species, as well as generate income for government, companies and surrounding communities.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recognizes this conservation potential of well-managed timber concessions.

Still, this only works as long as the government does not license the conversion of these natural forest concessions to non-forest land uses, such as oil palm plantations, which are of far less value to wildlife, ecosystems and people’s livelihoods.

The remaining forests of Indonesia provide important wildlife habitats and are greatly valued by people for a range of products and services (including flood buffering, temperature control, but also a free source of bush meat and fish). The future of Indonesia’s forest wildlife and the prevention of natural disasters therefore greatly depends on preventing further forest loss in protected areas and timber concessions.

The two studies suggest, however, that much works needs to be done by the Indonesian government and society since either protected areas or logging concessions seem to be inadequately managed and not strong enough to prevent deforestation.

The core weaknesses of the present protected area management system, for instance, will have to be addressed urgently. Performance-based systems should help the government to reward improvement in management and penalize failure, increasing the accountability of those in charge. The new REDD+ agency could support such systems.

Sustainable management of remaining forest areas from which timber can be legally harvested is a second key strategy. President Yudhoyono, for example, committed in 2012 to maintaining at least 45 percent of Kalimantan’s land area as forest.

Achieving such a target requires integration of forest estate planning, including prevention of further conversion of the remaining forests and ensuring that other development planning, both at sub-national and national levels, is synergized. Also, improved governance of forests requires further reforms in forest and land use licensing and management.

Indonesia still has significant forest areas. The future of these valuable resources is in the hands of the government, private sector and public. We need to continuously make decisions and put forward actions that not only boost our current economic growth but also sustain it and secure the country’s future economy by keeping and sustainably managing our forests.

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

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

Reconciling differences for better forest and land use

Published in Coal Asia, May 25 – June 20, 2013, page 100-101

by Fitrian Ardiansyah

for the pdf version, please see Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_MayJune2013


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has just recently extended the country’s forest conversion moratorium for two more years. As when the initial presidential decree on the moratorium issued two years ago, this extension has also been met with polarized reactions.

Parties supporting the extension of the moratorium applauded the decision and, furthermore, stated that the additional two years period would provide sufficient time for the central government to continue reforming Indonesia’s forest governance and policies.

In its newest analysis, World Resource Institute, for instance, believes that this moratorium extension can strengthen the country’s forest governance, particularly if the government is focusing on tracking forest permits and strengthening permit review process.

The Institute argues that the aforementioned approaches can help increasing the level of transparency in forest and land use governance, by providing a more complete set of permits data. With the factual situation whereby central and local governments often do not share information with each other on permits (e.g. for logging, mining, palm oil and other development activities), the provision of a more transparent set of permits data can help the governments to overcome conflicting claims over forest and land areas.

A group of environmental NGOs, including Walhi, when interviewed by the Jakarta Post, appear to support this argument by saying that the implementation of the extended moratorium needs to contribute at least to resolving prolonged natural resources conflicts.

Such reforms on the permit process, if comprehensively carried out for all Indonesian provinces and districts, may even lead to improving the level of certainty of doing business in Indonesia, especially in forestry, agriculture and other land-related sectors.

A 2008 report on investment climate in 33 provinces in Indonesia, conducted collaboratively by the Regional Autonomy Implementation Monitoring Committee (KPPOD) and Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), has identified uncertainty, claims and conflicts over land as some of significant barriers of investment.

The provision of a transparent and comprehensive set of permits data, in fact, can likely answer some criticisms thrown by the opponents of forest conversion moratorium.

It was revealed in the 2011 Indonesian Coal Report, for example, that a lengthy approval process of permits and unclear forestry boundary issues – likely resulting from overlapping permits over forest areas – have put a huge obstacle in mine operators. The introduction of forest conversion moratorium at that time and until now has been further viewed by these operators as additional “legislative nightmare”.

The development of a transparent and comprehensive set of permits data, especially if synergized with the already developed and refined moratorium-indicative map (MIM), therefore, could lead to an increase in legal certainty over forest and land use. Such approach could also contribute to the level of playing field for all land users and the wider public.

To date, the MIM has been updated and revised for a third time with the support of at least five ministries and institutions, i.e. Forestry Ministry, Agriculture Ministry, National Land Agency (BPN), Geospatial Information Agency (BIG), and the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight (UKP4). It is arguably one of the most significant progresses achieved during the first two-year period of the implementation of forest conversion moratorium.

Using the easily accessed MIM, the wider public can provide comments and feedbacks with regard to forest cover data and situation in their respective areas.

The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), with the help of the Participatory Mapping Network (JKPP), for example, has built a set of indigenous maps and added on to the MIM. Such product which has been submitted to the UKP4 and BIG as part of the MIM exercise may well be a good initial step to be used as the basis for implementing the recent decision made by the Constitutional Court that acknowledges indigenous and customary forests.

The importance of the MIM is clearly highlighted in the new Presidential Instruction No. 6 of 2013 that regulates the extension of forest conversion moratorium. In his instruction, not only the president emphasizes on its importance but also intends to use the MIM as the ultimate reference for the moratorium implementation and monitoring, as well as reforming the forest governance and its system in this country.

Regardless of the progress made in the MIM part, however, huge challenges still remain for forest conversion moratorium to continue and future efforts in reforming forest and land use in Indonesia to take place.

One of these is the fact that there is yet any (present or new) organisation or institution given a clear and strong mandate to officially coordinate – among ministries, agencies and different layers of governments – the implementation of forest conversion moratorium and further forest and land use governance reforms.

In the Presidential Instruction No. 6 of 2013, the President clearly instructs ministers, governors and bupatis (heads of districts) or mayors to halt issuing new development permits of primary forests and peat lands.

However, without a clear mechanism of coordination and governance structure, it is almost impossible for forest conversion moratorium to be implemented and for more serious forest management reform to commence, especially beyond 2014 – the year when Indonesians are busy with the national wide election.

The current National REDD+ Task Force has insufficient power and mandate to perform such tasks, while the Forestry Ministry and other sectoral ministries have no cross-sectoral mandate either.

Furthermore, forest and land use governance in Indonesia is even more complex due to its decentralized system. Although the central government claims to have control over forest areas in the country, the reality on the ground may be different. With significant powers now rest with the district level, and a large share of state revenue goes to district governments, provincial and district governments can have much more say about forest and forestry.

Any institution given a mandate to coordinate forest and land use reforms hence is required to not only take into account provincial and local aspirations, but also proactively involve them in a decision-making process. A positive incentive mechanism may also need to be created to encourage local key stakeholders to support the reforms.

Without a definitive institution having a definite mandate to coordinate forest and land use management, the division of authorities, roles and responsibilities among different sectoral ministries and layers of governments will likely remain unclear in many respects.

Various laws, regulations and policies which have resulted in overlapping forest and land use management, are likely to continuously operate.

With the election period approaching rapidly, the windows of opportunity to strengthen the reforms have become more limited.

This year, therefore, seems to be the most appropriate time for the government to establish such institution or give such mandate to any current institution. Otherwise, the hope for future forest and land use governance reforms may be in jeopardy.


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

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.

Sustaining Southeast Asia’s forests

Published in East Asia Forum Quarterly Vol. 4, No.4, October-December, 2012, PAGE 18-20

by Fitrian Ardiansyah

for full East Asia Forum Quartelrly pdf, plese see EAFQ-4.4-WEB-FINAL

Sustaining Southeast Asia’s forests

Avoiding and reversing the loss and degradation of forests is a crucial element of any sustainable development and climate change solution formulated in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia’s forests contain some of the richest and most valuable resources and habitats on earth. These include the Greater Mekong Subregion that covers 60 million hectares of tropical forests and rivers in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China, and the Heart of Borneo that comprises 24 million hectares of equatorial rainforests stretching along the borders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

These forests and terrestrial ecosystems have a vital role to play in the fight against global warming. They also have significant economic and ecological value. Hundreds of millions of people depend on the healthy productive capacity of these natural systems to sustain key ecosystem services such as clean water, food and fibre.

These forests are also home to a significant part of the world’s biodiversity and possess a high level of endemism across all groups of plants and animals. Southeast Asia’s forests are the only place on earth where orang-utans, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses still co-exist and where forests are large enough to maintain viable populations.

Deforestation and forest degradation are making a significant contribution to environmental degradation in this region and overall global emissions of greenhouse gases. In 2009, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that deforestation rates in Southeast Asia remained high at 3.7 million hectares per annum. In general, forests and terrestrial ecosystems in Southeast Asia, including peatlands, wetlands and rivers, are in a state of rapid ecological decline due to human over-exploitation.

The degradation of forest and wetland habitats affecting hydrological regimes is threatening water supply and the viability of one of the most important freshwater fisheries in the world— including, for instance, in the Tonle Sap fishery in Cambodia where the larger migratory species have declined significantly. The biggest threat to the Mekong River’s ecological system is the long-time deforestation of the river basin.

The island of Borneo, as well as Sumatra and many other places in this region, has also experienced high deforestation rates. According to several studies, between 1985 and 2005 Borneo lost an average of 850,000 hectares of forest annually—roughly a third of the island’s total rainforests—due to indiscriminate logging and forests being cleared for timber and oil palm plantations.

The increasing frequency of forest and land fires between 1997–2007 is indicative of the pressure to deforest. It is a combination of plantation and timber companies, unresolved land tenure disputes and land clearing by a massive number of individuals are the main causes of these fires.

Because of these issues, the governments of Southeast Asia are under pressure to devise smart development strategies that not only promote economic growth but also conserve the areas’ globally important biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources.

Regional cooperation is emerging. Initiatives include the Mekong River Commission (MRC), which coordinates the formulation and implementation of sustainable development for the Greater Mekong Subregion, and the Heart of Borneo initiative, which facilitates cooperation among parties in protecting, conserving and sustainably managing remaining forests and adjacent areas.

Since 2009, countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion have agreed to use the Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Initiative (BCCI) to accelerate efforts to address conservation and climate change. One BCCI initiative is to channel economic stimulus to the rural poor within the corridors. The aim of this initiative is to strengthen sustainable management of forest and water resources. As the people become poorer and need resources to get out of poverty, there is likely a huge pressure for further and faster natural resource extraction – hence, actions to address poverty tends to have positive results on the environment.

The Heart of Borneo recently launched a ‘green economy’ approach aimed at concretely and seriously tackling threats from unsustainable land-use activities and further improving enabling conditions like good economic policy. This will create positive incentives for stakeholders to employ sustainable practices and foster good governance, clear land tenure and reformed sectoral development.

Reports also show an increase in the private sector’s involvement in the promotion, development and application of sustainability principles in their management of key commodities including forestry (through the Forest Stewardship Council) and palm oil (through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).

In November 2007 only 0.8 million hectares of Southeast Asia’s natural forests were certified under the Forest Stewardship Council. Now more than 2 million hectares of natural forests have been certified under a similar scheme. In mid-2011, just three years after certification commenced under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the palm oil industry reached one million hectares of certified production area globally. The biggest contributors were Malaysia and Indonesia.

ASEAN has commenced the Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative. Since 2008 ASEAN and its member countries have developed programs to improve in-countries’ capacity and have initiated demonstration projects so that stakeholders are ready to implement REDD+.

These efforts to retain the remaining forests of Southeast Asia may nevertheless be inadequate given constant pressures from global and regional demand for commodities like palm oil and timber. A 2010 UN report estimated that the illegal timber trade in Southeast Asia was worth US$3.5 billion.

There is urgent need for ASEAN countries to scale up their collaboration on deforestation so that they are seen as a strong front that can negotiate the channelling of financial and technical support to address deforestation in their region. At the United Nations Framework of Convention on Climate Change, ASEAN is not seen as a strong lobby group that can influence the negotiation of the financial and policy aspects of REDD+.

In setting up a monitoring system for deforestation, countries in the region can learn from Brazil, which is considered to have an advanced deforestation monitoring system. The Brazilian system combines real-time satellite observation and regular ground checking. Using an ASEAN platform, countries in Southeast Asia have the opportunity to replicate such a system in a cost-effective and transparent way.

Stronger collaborative efforts among countries, state and non-state actors in Southeast Asia is the key to significantly reducing deforestation and mitigating its impacts. Further involvement of producers in the REDD+ initiatives through timber concessions and incentives for oil palm plantations could accelerate the implementation of sustainable practices.

Financial institutions in the region and at global level also have a significant role to play. They must develop robust investment screening policies to discourage high-risk investment patterns leading to deforestation. Consumers of related commodities can also help by favoring goods that are produced through certified sustainable operations.

If done properly, efforts like these would lead to fundamental changes in how Southeast Asians manage, protect and sustain their forests. The impact of those efforts will be felt by the global community in the form of emissions reductions, and by people in Southeast Asia through their ability to maintain timber and non-timber forest production, water supply, and other ecosystem goods and services.

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


Vol.4 No.4: October – December, 2012
Energy, resources and food
About this issue
In this issue we address one of the most important concerns in Asia: security over natural resources or about how to ensure we have sufficient food, water, energy, and other resources at an accessible cost and within tolerable levels of risk now and into the future. Managing resource risks in an insecure world will differ by country, the type and possible magnitude of the risks, and national, regional vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, the multidimensional nature of resource security demands that critically important natural capital stocks be conserved at a regional and global level and that special consideration be given to the particular vulnerabilities of poor countries while following market-based approaches to ensure adequate resource supplies. Whatever the national approach adopted towards resource security, we stress that promoting resource security is not a zero-sum game. All countries can benefit from a multilateral and a sustainable market framework that provides incentives for producers and delivers reliable supply to consumers.