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Moratorium: Will it Save Indonesia from Deforestation?

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On May 20th, 2011 the Indonesian government officially released the Presidential Instruction No.10/2011, which laid out the government's plan of a two-year moratorium on deforestation [1]. This was part of a larger agreement with Norway to help reduce Indonesia’s deforestation rates and resulting carbon emissions. As part of this agreement, Norway pledged to provide Indonesia with up to $1 Billion USD of economic aid [2].

An mother and baby orangutan sitting together on top of a tree in a forest.
The Moratorium protects around 65 million hectares of "Natural Primary Forests"

Photo by Čeština [6]

The moratorium pledged to put a stop on the issuing of new land development permits within the described area. The amount of area covered was Indonesia’s entire roughly 21 million hectares of peatland, as well as an estimated 44 million hectares of “Natural Primary Forests”. While this is a fairly vague term as it did not have a legal definition, it was considered to mean forests which are untouched, unmanaged, and undisturbed [1].

Criticisms of the Moratorium

However, this moratorium was met with strong criticism from both business and environmental groups.

On the business side, the palm oil industry was especially critical of the proposal. They expressed concerns that the moratorium would force them to decrease their yearly expansion rate from around 350,000 hectares of new plantations per year to 200,000, causing economic downturn and thereby increasing Indonesia’s poverty and hunger problems [3].

Meanwhile, environmental groups, unsurprisingly had the opposite view to the palm oil producers stating that they didn’t believe the plan went far enough. For one, the estimated 35 million hectares of secondary forests (forests that have been replenished after a timber harvest), are not included in the moratorium, keeping them vulnerable to expansion. Further, of the roughly 60-65 million hectares of protected area, around 38 million were already protected by previous laws, bringing the total area of newly protected forest and peatland to only around 22.5 million hectares [2]

A cart with two people drives on the tracks over the wetlands in the Borneo National Park
The Moratorium faced opposition from both enterprises and environmentalists, for many different reasons.

Photo by Reza Septian [7

Too Many Loopholes and  Exceptions

There were also multiple exceptions put into the document. For example, some key industries like mining and rice production would be exempt from the law [2]. Most importantly, permits issued within the protected area before the start of the moratorium would not lose their validity. This sparked concerns that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry he would quickly grant many permits to the palm oil producers to forego the moratorium [4]. These concerns were furthered by the fact that the Indonesian government also announced in 2011 that they planned on doubling their palm oil production by 2020, which they are currently on track to achieving [5].

Unsurprisingly, it quickly became public that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry had given permits to palm oil companies for around 3 million hectares of protected land. This was despite the palm oil industry only needing around 1 million hectares in two years to meet it’s expected growth, protecting the industry for a time period beyond the end of the moratorium two years later [4].


Another criticism aimed at the moratorium was a lack of faith in the government’s ability to enforce laws on the management of the forests. Local governments have the authority to decide over the use of forests in their provinces, this leaves the door open for widespread corruption when it comes to the distribution of local forestry permits. For this reason, many environmental groups therefore saw the moratorium more as a symbolic gesture rather than a concerted effort to curb deforestation. The very limited scope of only two years was not received positively, as well.

Hope for the Peatlands

What was praised however, was the focus on protecting the country's peatlands. As this vegetation has an especially high carbon concentration, environmentalists reacted positively to the government placing the moratorium on all peatland in the country [2].

It can be therefore said that while some were carefully optimistic about the value of moratorium, it was generally seen as too weak and unambitious at a time when deforestation was already Indonesia’s most pressing environmental issue.


Want to know what has been happening to the moratorium recently?





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