Indonesia extends ban on new licences to clear forests


Indonesian President Joko Widodo has approved a two-year extension to a moratorium on issuing new licences for land earmarked as primary forest and peatland, the Environment and Forestry Minister said yesterday.

“While we are gathering enough material to decide on licensing and primary forest and peatland governance, the presidential instruction is extended for now,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Reuters.

This is the third extension of the moratorium, which was established in 2011 under the previous administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in an effort to reduce emissions from fires caused by deforestation. The previous extension expired on May 20, and the latest rollover would give the authorities more time to pin down regulations on forest use, Dr Siti Nurbaya said in a text message.

The main objective of the moratorium is to protect primary forest and peatland covering more than 60 million hectares of land, including land in Sumatra and Kalimantan. By November last year, the government’s forest moratorium covered an area of more than 66 million hectares.

Indonesia is prone to outbreaks of forest fires during the dry season, often blamed on the draining of peatland forests and land clearance for agriculture. The resulting choking smoke often blows across to neighbouring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, slashing visibility and causing a health hazard.

The Indonesian government has also come under pressure from its neighbours to take more action to stop regular forest fires that send choking smoke across the region.

There were massive forest fires in 2015, affecting mainly the island of Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island. The World Bank estimated that 2.6 million hectares of land in Indonesia were destroyed at that time, causing US$16 billion (S$22 billion) of damage.

The draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by palm oil plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires, the World Bank also said.

The Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) warned that South-east Asia is likely to see a higher number of hotspots linked to forest fires and haze this year compared with last year. It added that with a chance of El Nino conditions emerging in the upcoming dry season from June to October, the region could also experience less rainfall than normal.

The Indonesian government has also given the assurance that there will be no recurrence of transboundary haze this year.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest palm oil producer, and environmentalists blame much of the forest destruction on land clearance for the crop.

An executive at the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) said he hoped the government would provide more certainty for plantation industries such as palm oil.

“After completing all these (policies), the government has to have a masterplan for national palm oil,” Mr Eddy Martono of Gapki said. “The reality now is Indonesian palm oil has become an economic backbone.”


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