Hot Air: Skepticism on Indonesia’s Deforestation Commitments at COP26 | New


Medan, Indonesia – As the COP26 climate change conference continues into its second and final week in Glasgow, a commitment signed by more than 100 countries to reverse deforestation by the end of 2030 has been widely acclaimed.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russia and Indonesia, which together account for 85 percent of the world’s forests, are among the signatories to the agreement, which also comes with a pledge of financial assistance from $ 19 billion.

But while UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who heads the summit, has called the deal “unprecedented”, not everyone is celebrating.

“In our opinion, the initial commitment to reduce deforestation is positive, but it must be accompanied by concrete actions,” Uli Arta Siagian, forestry and plantation activist at WALHI (Indonesian Forum for the environment).

“The problem is that this commitment is at odds with what is being done by state officials in Indonesia. “

Forests extend over approximately 920,000 km² (355,214 square miles) across the Southeast Asian archipelago and have long been under pressure from illegal logging and land clearing, mainly for agricultural plantations. producing palm oil as well as pulp and paper. About 10 percent of primary forest cover has been lost since 2001, according to Global Forest Watch.

Critics say authorities have watered down national legislation and failed to take action against those who contribute to deforestation, even though they have promised to protect forests.

Last week, in a speech on deforestation at COP26, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, said that Indonesia, one of the most biodiverse countries and in resources, is “committed to protecting… critical carbon sinks and our natural capital for future generations”.

Kiki Taufik, global head of the Indonesian forests campaign for Greenpeace in Southeast Asia, calls the comments “nothing new and ambitious,” he said.

A barge filled with logs passed through the town of Samarinda in East Kalimantan last week. Indonesia pledged to halve natural forest loss by 2020 as part of New York Declaration, but campaigners say it failed to meet that target [Aditya Aji/AFP]
Large-scale industrial plantations of crops like palm oil and pulpwood have contributed to deforestation in Indonesia [File: /Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Taufik notes that Indonesia was one of the first signatories of the New York Declaration on Forests, which was agreed at the United Nations Climate Summit in 2014 and committed Indonesia and other signatories to “Halve the loss of natural forests by 2020 and strive to end by 2030”.

Consumer goods companies have also pledged to eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural products such as palm oil, soybeans, paper and beef products by 2020.

But Taufik notes that despite Indonesia’s commitment to protect forests, it has failed to meet these goals.

A Greenpeace report produced in partnership with environmental mapping specialists TheTreeMap, which was released ahead of COP26, also found that a fifth of the country’s oil palm plantations were located in areas such as critical watersheds. , national parks and conservation areas designated as ‘national forest estate’ where such activity is illegal. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of palm oil, used in a range of products from detergents to chocolate.

“Strict rules are needed to properly protect nature,” Taufik said in a statement, accusing governments of planning “another discussion workshop on deforestation at COP26”.

Healthy forests, which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, have been identified as essential for keeping global temperature increases below 1.5 ° C (2.7 ° F) and combating climate change.

Deforestation, on the other hand, not only contributes to CO2 emissions, but also leads to devastating floods and fires, as well as the loss of flora and fauna, including endangered tigers and orangutans, as the trees are cut to make way for vast areas of monoculture.

Lack of laws

The Greenpeace report also highlighted a controversial amnesty program that will allow some Indonesian plantations to retroactively legalize their activities under the Omnibus Job Creation Law (UU Cipta Kerja), which was passed in 2020 and replaced parts of the Prevention and Eradication of Forest Destruction Act 2013.

“The enactment of the Job Creation Law will increase the rate of deforestation in Indonesia,” said Siagian of WALHI. “This law no longer stipulates the obligation to maintain 40 percent of the forest in a wooded area. Not to mention Articles 110 A and B, which offer the possibility of an amnesty. This is also exacerbated by the lifting of the moratorium on palm oil.

Indonesia is one of the richest countries in biodiversity and is home to rare species including orangutans, tigers and slow lorises. [File: Wahyudi/AFP]

The Job Creation Law replaced a moratorium on the development of new oil palm plantations, which was launched by Jokowi in 2019 with the aim of stopping deforestation and expired in September.

Under the controversial new law, companies that operate illegally have three years to bring their activities into compliance with the law and will not face criminal penalties if found to be in violation.

Siagian of WALHI says the result will likely be more permits for plantations and more clearing of forests.

Greenpeace’s Taufik agrees that the key to tackling deforestation in Indonesia lies in strengthening laws to support efforts to tackle climate change and clean up the supply chain to ensure that consumer products companies do not ‘not buy in plantations linked to the destruction of forests.

“We need an immediate halt to deforestation, backed by strong national laws and policies that recognize the land rights of local and indigenous peoples, adequately protect forests, [and] eliminating deforestation through supply chains, ”he said.

Indonesia’s commitment to deforestation at COP26 was called into question when the country’s Minister of Environment and Forests, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, took to Twitter on November 3 to qualify the deal “unfair,” adding that “the massive development of President Jokowi’s era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or deforestation.”

The comments, which were part of a larger series of 18 tweets on Indonesia’s development and environment issues, sparked protests in the capital Jakarta on Friday and were widely criticized by environmental activists.

Members of Bakar’s political party, the National Democrats (NasDem), however, defended the comments, saying she was determined to protect the environment.

“The statement must be viewed in its entirety,” Ahmad SH, a West Nusa-based NasDem member Tenggara who previously worked for WALHI, told Al Jazeera. “In my opinion, she did not want to neglect the protection of the environment. In fact, she is very committed. It is not only concerned with development at the expense of environmental issues, but focuses on harmonizing the two. “

He added that in the future, the government’s commitment to development and the environment “must be seen as a joint effort” that includes all political parties as well as civil society organizations.

A capital crisis

Jokowi’s latest engagement also comes as the president plans a new capital for the country in East Kalimantan Province in Indonesian Borneo, where indigenous peoples have long fought to protect their lands and curb the spread of plantations.

The city is expected to cover 25.6 square kilometers (10 square miles) of largely rural land in the east of the island and be home to 1.5 million people.

Work has already started to build a large dam to supply the new capital with water. Similar projects such as putting in place the city’s electricity supply are expected to begin soon after the $ 32 billion pledge had to be suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“They announced that the concept of the new capital would be a ‘Green City’, but how can you have a ‘Green City’ when you build walls everywhere? Abdallah Naem, a local activist and member of JATAM (Indonesia’s Mining Advocacy Network) based in Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, told Al Jazeera.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects an area expected to be part of the country’s new capital by 2024 [File: Akbar Nugroho Gumay/Antara Foto via Reuters]

Jokowi aims for the government to leave Jakarta, the current capital, before the end of its second term in 2024. The low-lying town is prone to flooding and plagued by environmental problems ranging from polluted rivers to smog.

However, while solving Jakarta’s problems, Naem says residents of East Kalimantan fear meeting new ones, with the new capital accelerating environmental destruction in an area where silt from logging has already obstructed rivers and resulted in increased flooding.

“Years ago there was no water problem here. People drew water from rivers that never ran dry and were always clear. However, when companies started working here, the rivers changed color and became contaminated so that the water could no longer be used for drinking or swimming, ”he said.

According to the Greenpeace report, more than 730 square kilometers (282 square miles) of oil palms – an area the size of Singapore – are planted in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan Forest Estate.

“The president should focus on returning Kalimantan to its old state, but the new capital will only make matters worse,” Naem said.

“Jokowi says all the right things when he’s in an international forum, but it’s not the same as what we see on the pitch. “

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