Indonesia Outlines Plan to Curb Forest Clearing

Source : NY Times
May 20, 2011
By Aubrey Belford

Indonesia on Friday released the details of an eagerly awaited $1 billion deal to curb forest destruction and cut greenhouse gas emissions, but it faced criticism from environmentalists, who said the plan gave industry too much leeway for further clearing in key ecosystems.

The decree, signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commits Indonesia to a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear 64 million hectares, or 158 million acres, of virgin forest and carbon-rich peatland, putting into effect a funding agreement reached with Norway last year.

Originally slated for January, the moratorium was delayed for months as environmentalists and climate scientists pushed Mr. Yudhoyono’s administration to increase the amount of land off-limits to new development, while powerful industries and some government departments pushed back.

The plan has been promoted as a landmark step in tackling climate change by reducing deforestation, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The approach, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, has been widely seen as a rare bright spot among stalled efforts to reduce worldwide emissions.

The moratorium — which does not affect existing forestry concessions and also allows for development in virgin forest of some mining and agriculture deemed of vital national interest — leaves both environmentalists and industry with some of their demands unmet. But the government said the compromise was an important step in reversing Indonesia’s record of unchecked clearing of tropical forests.

“I guess everybody has their own expectations,” said Agus Purnomo, Mr. Yudhoyono’s special adviser on climate change. Referring to nongovernmental organizations, he added, “The NGOs, the international community, they would like to see all permits in all forests be suspended.”

“That’s never been the intention,” he said. “All we’ve committed to is natural forests — that is forests, in good standing, untouched by humans.”

Mr. Purnomo cautioned that the moratorium was only a first step for Indonesia to reach its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions — the third highest in the world by some counts — at least 26 percent by 2020. Other key steps, like a funding mechanism for anti-deforestation projects and an agency to oversee emission reduction efforts, are still on the drawing board.

The environmental group Greenpeace said the moratorium showed that Indonesia had committed itself to the rhetoric of forest conservation but that the plan was crippled by trade-offs to powerful land-clearing industries like palm oil and pulp and paper.

“Actually, it’s really a bit disappointing,” said Bustar Maitar, a lead forest activist at Greenpeace. “For sure, industry will be happy with this. This is part of their strong lobbying.”

The plan is “a step forward,” said Aida Greenbury, managing director of Asia Pulp and Paper, one of Indonesia’s largest paper producers, but she said it needed to be followed by government action on promises to clear up Indonesia’s confusing system of land classification. The system makes it unclear just what is virgin forest and what is “degraded” land of lower environmental value.

The company, which is affiliated with the Sinar Mas conglomerate, has been accused by some environmentalists of major forest destruction. It denies the assertion and has publicly backed the moratorium.

“Right now, the green radicals and the NGOs and the government, everybody has their own list,” Ms. Greenbury said. “We can’t go on doing that.”

It is too early to say which side — environmentalists or industry — is the winner out of Indonesia’s moratorium, said Louis Verchot, the chief climate scientist of the Center for International Forestry Research, an international research institute based in Indonesia.

“This is not a final step, this is the first step,” Mr. Verchot said. “I think we need to understand that. This guarantees a reduction in emissions, but it doesn’t guarantee Indonesia is going to meet its targets. This should not be construed in any way as the mechanism by which Indonesia is going to meet its emissions reductions commitments.”

Link : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/21/world/asia/21iht-indonesia21.html

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