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Permanent Ban on Forest Clearing yet Deforestation in Indonesia Increases

Indonesia’s moratorium on logging was initially planned to only last two years, from 2011 to 2013. However, it was extended three times (2013, 2015, 2017) before being made permanent in 2019.

In 2019, the government claimed that the average deforestation from 2011 - 2018 within the areas of the moratorium has gone down by around 38% compared to the previous seven years. However, studies using satellite imagery have come to the opposite conclusion, claiming an increase of around 41% [1].

A birds-eye view of a logs stacked up on each other, in the middle of a cleared forest.
With the Moratorium in place, illegal logging is still a huge problem on top of many others.

Photo by Pok Rie [4]

Continued Deforestation in Non-Protected Areas

Logging within the moratorium zone is not the only problem. One issue has been rampant deforestation in areas not included within the moratorium. Between 2011 and 2014, the government gave out permits to areas of forest adding up to around 164,000 km2, bringing up questions to the law’s fundamental purpose [1]. This, along with the exclusion of large swaths of primary forests, peatlands, and secondary forests in the scope of the moratorium has led many activists to call for an expansion of the protected zone.

This idea was further strengthened by a 2015 study that concluded if the moratorium had been put in place in 2000, it would only have reduced deforestation by less than 3%, and carbon emissions by less than 7%. The study concluded by saying that if the government wants to reach it’s emission reduction goals, they must address deforestation outside the current moratorium zones [1].


The Ever-Decreasing Protected Area of the Moratorium

However, instead of growing, the area of the moratorium has actually been decreasing over the years. One of the stipulations of the moratorium is that the government must review and alter the protection zone every six months based on recommendations by local authorities. This gives industry the ability to use a combination of aggressive lobbying and bribes to gain access to desired lands. A good example of this is the former governor of the Riau province of Sumatra who was convicted of a 7-year prison sentence for having taken 2 billion Rupiah in bribes [1]. However, while his crimes were caught and punished, countless others have managed to avoid law enforcement.

It is estimated that over the course of the initial eight years of the moratorium, the total protected area has decreased by around 30,000 square kilometers, or around 4.5% of the total. Further, around 122,500 km2 of land has been made available to companies to exploit, using loopholes in the moratorium that allow local leaders to get around bans on permits by declaring land inside the moratorium zone as “other use” land (APL) [1].

A lot of trees in the forest with a clear blue sky on top.
Bribery and corruption are one of the biggest problems of fighting deforestation in Indonesia.

Photo by Thiago Japyassu [5]

A Silver Lining after the 2015 Forest Fires

This being said, there were also some big improvements made. In response to the catastrophic fires of 2015, the government issued a further moratorium on the exploitation of all peatlands [2]. The government also strongly prosecuted companies they found to be responsible for these fires. For example, PT National Sago Prima was ordered to pay 1 trillion rupiah for its role in these fires due to severe negligence [3]. These policies seemed to have had a positive effect as in 2018, Indonesia lost “only” 3,400 km2 of forest, the lowest value since 2003, and a 40% drop compared to the 2002 - 2016 average [2].

These improvements, as well as President Widodo announcing the moratorium to be permanent from 2019 onwards, seemed to indicate a positive trend for the protection of Indonesia’s forests.





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