In search for agreed land use solutions


by Fitrian Ardiansyah

To see the pdf version, please click: Opinion Fitrian Ardiansyah_CoalAsia_Sep2012

Searching for agreed sustainable land-use management in a developing country like Indonesia is a balancing act. The two recent government regulations issued this year, namely number 60 and 61, provide ample proof on this issue.

As a tropical forest developing nation, rapid development of forests – for forestry, agriculture, infrastructure or mining activities – in Indonesia has led not only to economic growth but also to environmental degradation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

If no immediate actions taken, the unsustainable economic growth may push the already fragile ecosystems in this country close to its ‘tipping point’ – a threshold in which damages to ecosystems are irreversible and causing unacceptable environmental changes.

This country is home to peatlands, savannas and the third largest of the world’s tropical forests, which are considered among the most valuable ecosystems in the world.

Indonesia is hence considered as one of the mega-biodiversity countries. In the 2010 State of Biodiversity of Asia and the Pacific, however, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) ranked Indonesia second after Australia as having the most threatened plant and animal species in the region. This is due to, among other things, high rates of fragmentation and net loss of forests that have continued between 2000 and 2009.

In 2009, data from the Forestry Ministry show that Indonesia had 132.4 million hectares of forest estates (kawasan hutan) and out of these only 90.1 million hectares were covered by forest vegetation – of this roughly one-third was covered by primary forests, one-third by logged over areas and one-third by vegetation other than forest.

To address the ever declining state of the country’s forests, the Indonesian government has issued the moratorium of forest conversion in 2011 and introduced the overall REDD+ framework – that include efforts to reduce deforestation, forest degradation, conservation, sustainable management of forest and enhancement of forest carbon stock.

Implementing the moratorium, REDD+ and sustainable forest management is of course very challenging given the pressures coming from variety of sectors that have interests in forest and land use – sectors which, furthermore, are often regulated under different ministries and layers of government. These institutions are known to have issued overlapping policies on land use and land use changes, and influenced the issuance of different documents and maps of forest and land use.

These respected sectors are, nevertheless, crucial in the development of the economy of Indonesia. They are the main engine of this so-called emerging economy.

Commercial exploitation of natural forests began in 1967 and was one of the main drivers of the Indonesian economy since then. Billions of US dollars contributed from the export of forest products on a yearly basis consisting of plywood, sawn timber, and processed timber as well as pulp and paper, furniture and other processed timber products.

With regard to agriculture production, especially the palm oil sector, Indonesia in 2009 surpassed Malaysia to become the biggest producer of palm oil in the world, with production accelerating dramatically in recent years. Indonesia’s CPO (crude palm oil) exports and resultant revenues have increased significantly, from 3.8 million tons (valued at US$1 billion) in 1999 to 17.85 million tons in 2010 (US$10.03 billion).

The mining sector also contributes significantly to the country’s revenue. For instance, it is reported that the mining industry accounted for 10.8 percent of Indonesia’s GDP in 2009, with minerals and related products contributing one-fifth of the country’s total exports. This sector looks set to post strong average annual double-digit growth of 11.2 percent in real terms over the forecast period to reach US$149.8 billion in 2015.

To date, many scholars agree when it comes to land use change – including forest cover change – in Indonesia, forestry, palm oil, mining and infrastructure sectors are the most important and influential causes.

Given close association of these development sectors with land use and forest cover change, agreed and appropriate solutions need to be identified and reached so that economic development can still flourish while forest protection is ensured.

The issuance of the two government regulations – the Government Regulation (GR) No. 60 of 2012 on the amendment of No. 10 of 2010 on Procedures for Conversion of Allocation and Functions of Forest Areas and GR No. 61 of 2012 on the amendment of No. 24 of 2010 on Forest Area Utilization – has been perceived as an attempt by the Indonesian government to find such solutions.

As analyzed by one law firm (LGS) in its website, these two regulations have been issued to address a number of outstanding issues with the regulatory framework. This law firm argues that GR No. 60 of 2012 simplifies land replacement for permanent or limited production forests by removing the “adjacent to a forest” requirement, and GR No. 61 of 2012 is intended to provide certainty for borrow to use license holders, allow strategic industries to operate in forest areas, and reconcile conflicts with the Law No. 26 of 2007 on Spatial Planning Law.

There are always two sides of the coin. In the context of GR No. 60, the supporters of this regulation argue that this regulation improves legal certainty for the development activities, especially agriculture plantations, to take place.

This also ensures that plantation activities using particular forest estates need to replace these areas with the same size or bigger. The regulation, furthermore, puts the threshold of forests that cannot be converted in that particular estate (30 percent of the total area) and explicitly mentions about the importance of ensuring the environmental carrying capacity of the estate.

With regard to GR No. 61, this regulation offers improvement of legal certainty for particular mining activities which have been operated or obtain licenses in forest areas.

Many critics, however, claim that this regulation will only jeopardize the future sustainable forest management and forest protection in this country. Some environmental organizations refer to the fact that rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, for instance, has caused the conversion of a significant area of forests and peat lands.

These organizations are backed up by some scholarly studies including the one conducted in 2008 that estimated that palm oil development was responsible for a significant percentage of deforestation in Indonesia.

A similar accusation is labeled against the mining industry. A study conducted in 2000 argues that the development of mining will result in negative impacts including extensive land disturbance, loss of forest cover and habitat, contamination of rivers used for drinking water and food supplies, and increasing social conflict over access to mineral resources.

It is clear that regardless of the issuance these two regulations, conflicting claims and arguments will remain.

The role of the government is critical to ensure that land use processes and outputs resulting from these two regulations are synchronized with the efforts carried out by the process put in place under the moratorium of forest conversion that has resulted in one land use and forest cover map as well as the overall REDD+ process.

Without synergizing these two regulatory and substantive processes, Indonesia will miss the opportunity to provide legal certainty for both economic development and environmental protection.

As a country that has committed to sustainable development agenda, it is important that the country is not just focusing on economic performance but also on the environmental and social aspects of development. This means that the government needs to provide guidance and push for sustainable and responsible practices in the plantation and mining industry’s operations.

Many has argued that plantations and mining operations which overlap with Indonesia’s forests, especially overlaps with areas of high ecological values, have already caused significant impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems.

It is, therefore, important for the players in these sectors, particularly the private sector, to show that they are as much as responsible and willing to improve their practices for the better.

Indonesia is at the cross road in showing whether the country can develop its economy without further harming its environment.

These two recently issued regulations show once again the challenge in achieving that balancing act.


Fitrian Ardiansyah

The writer is climate and sustainability specialist, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University, and the recipient of Australian Leadership Award and Allison Sudradjat Award. He can be reached at


New year, new climate (re)solutions?

Fitrian Ardiansyah ,  Jakarta Post, Climate Solutions Column   |  Tue, 01/05/2010 11:03 AM  |  Environment

The New Year has arrived. And 2010 has come with bigger challenges than ever for everyone and society as a whole when it comes to confronting the risk of catastrophic climate change.

At the end of last year, the Conference of Parties (COP15) – the largest gathering ever held on climate change – brought about a bitter solution, with countries present agreeing to merely taking note of a political agreement known as the interim Copenhagen Accord.

The Accord, a 12-paragraph statement of intention, mentions a global ambition to keep the average global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. However, Professor John Sterman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) notes that the average global temperature may increase by 3.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

This would mean that up to 170 million more people suffering from severe coastal floods, 550 million more at risk of starvation, and up to 50 percent of species facing extinction, according to the Stern econo-mic review.

While we hope that COP-16 in Mexico City will succeed in securing a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement, it is now up to governments, the private sector, organizations and individuals to address climate change.

Many scientific and technical documents state that it is still possible for developed and developing worlds to grow their economies in the 21st century while at the same time avert catastrophic consequences caused by climate change.

Halting the dire consequences of climate change is a long-term undertaking, but the first steps must be taken by governments currently in power.

For instance in Indonesia, it is certainly a good year for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his government to create and consolidate policies, incentives and actions that would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Last year, SBY pledged to reduce the country’s GHG emissions by 26 percent and prioritised three out of 15 action points in a “100 days” program focusing on climate, energy, the environment and land use.

However these action points need to be elaborated on further to provide clear direction that will enable us to halt and reverse the loss, degradation of forests and peat lands as well as boost energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Deforestation and forest and peat land degradation contribute significantly to the GHG emissions through the expansion of the forestry industry (e.g. logging, pulp wood plantation), agriculture (e.g. oil palm plantation), infrastructure development, settlement and mining.

Key regulations that are effectively enforced are required to halt destructive and illegal logging, prevent forest and land fires, preserve the remaining protected forests, and deal with the complexity of land use and spatial planning.

Domestic demand in the energy sector has been increasing faster than the average population growth.

A large amount of this demand was met by fossil fuels, contributing significantly to Indonesia’s 6-percent-a-year GHG emissions growth rate.

Providing policies and incentives to break the link between energy services and primary energy production is essential, such as prioritizing large-scale energy efficiency measures (getting more energy services per unit of energy used).

Policies and incentives are also needed to promote the growth of low-emissions technologies such as geothermal, solar PV, micro-hydro, wind and bio-energy, but within a set of environmental and social constraints to ensure their sustainability; and displacing high-carbon coal with low-carbon gas as a “bridging fuel”.

Population pressures as well as increasing consumption levels locally and overseas drive GHG emissions, often exacerbated by poor governance and inadequate land-use planning.

Therefore, besides involving different sectors and the government, a wide range of influential actors and key stakeholders need to be encouraged to contribute to the President’s pledge and program.

The private sector, for instance, needs a clear signal from the government (e.g. credible regulations) and the market (e.g. benefits for producing commodities derived from sustainable practices) that it must invest in climate solutions, which eventually can be justified to shareholders.

Companies can be encouraged to be part of sustainable development initiatives, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Although voluntary, this type of initiatives can eventually drive demand for responsibly produced commodities while gradually address environmental and social concerns.

Overall, there are plenty of climate change mitigation opportunities business can explore. Involving the private sector will not only contribute to mitigating climate change but also increase national energy security and economic efficiency.

Different actors including the government, private sector and individuals can contribute separately but have to work together to achieve substantive GHG emission reductions.

Examples of these collaborative steps already exist at the subnational level. Platforms initiated through the Sumatra Governors Declaration, the Heart of Borneo and Papua Governor’s pledge may be used as a starting point – carefully laying out a sustainable development platform addressing the need for economic development as well as environmental protection.

In the end, our future depends on all actors involved making critical decisions to achieve a low-emission economy consistent within a certain time line.

Now is the time to advance the exploration and implementation of climate solutions that will help Indonesia’s economy and its people.

The writer is program director of climate & energy at WWF-Indonesia and adjunct lecturer at Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy.
He can be reached at

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