Source : Economist
May 05, 2011
An agreement signed this week by Indonesia and the European Union offers hope that Indonesia may begin to put its woeful mismanagement of its forests behind it. For environmental campaigners it is evidence of how the rich world can exert a benign influence on the developing countries that provide its resources.
The agreement, a “voluntary partnership”, commits Indonesian producers of timber and timber products such as pulp and paper to meeting auditing criteria to certify that the products were not made from illegally felled trees. The agreement covers trade worth about $1.2 billion a year. But Indonesia has agreed to extend the process to all its timber-product exports—worth nearly $10 billion a year.
In the past few decades, Indonesia’s forests have been disappearing at a terrifying rate. Forest coverage has shrunk from 82% to 49% today. Much of logging has been illegal, with rampant corruption protecting the criminals involved. According to an estimate by Chatham House, a British think-tank, illegal logging had fallen by 75% from its peak in 2000, but in 2006 some 40% of timber production was still illegal.
The impetus to clean up this mess has come from legislation in America and Europe. America’s federal “Lacey” Act bans the trading of illegal timber. Similarly, the EU’s Timber Regulation will prohibit imports of illegal timber from March 2013. All first-time sellers of timber products will have to prove that the trees were legally felled.
The threat of losing markets that together account for about one-third of Indonesia’s timber exports has given government and industry the incentive to agree a certification process. Auditing, by independent inspectors, has already started, and has covered 1.1m hectares and 51 factories. As a measure of the scale of the task, there are still some 4,500 factories to go.
Indonesian deforestation has recently attracted much attention because of its huge contribution to global carbon emissions. This agreement will be welcomed by the government’s task force on Reducing Emission through Deforestation and forest Degradation or REDD, a scheme for rich countries to pay for forest conservation.
Last year the government of Norway promised Indonesia $1 billion under a bilateral REDD agreement. In return, Indonesia promised to impose a two-year moratorium on commercial deforestation, starting at the beginning of this year. However, the presidential decree to give legal force to the moratorium is still awaited, as different interests haggle about its scope. The agreement with the EU has no direct impact on the Norwegian deal. It will encourage its promoters, however, that Indonesia really does seem serious about improving the way its forests are managed.