Challengers Pledge to Do More for Indonesia’s Shrinking Forests

Indonesia’s presidential candidates are promising to do better than their predecessor in slowing the destruction of the world’s third-largest rainforest.

Jusuf Kalla, running mate for presidential hopeful Joko Widodo, said his ticket will restore 2 million hectares of degraded forests. Former army general Prabowo Subianto, Widodo’s challenger, proposed giving jobs to residents of forest communities to prevent illegal logging. The candidate spoke at a July 5 televised debate before tomorrow’s voting.

Either winner will be hard-pressed to keep his promise to protect resources in Indonesia, ranked as the world’s third-largest emitter because of rapid deforestation. While Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president since 2004, started his second term with an ambitious target for saving forests, Indonesia’s rate of destruction has surpassed Brazil’s, the journal Nature Climate Change said last month.

Both candidates failed to give details for their forest-management plans, Bustar Maitar, the head of Greenpeace’s Indonesia forest campaign, said in an interview today. “They didn’t mention whether their pledges to expand farm lands will come at the expense of the forests,” Maitar said.

Indonesia lost more than 6 million hectares of its primary forest -- an area the size of England -- from 2000 to 2012, scientists including Belinda Arunarwati Margono and Fred Stolle wrote in Nature Climate Change on June 29.

The country’s primary forest loss was increasing by an average of 47,600 hectares every year, more than any tropical country’s increase, the study shows. By 2012, annual primary forest loss in Indonesia was estimated at nearly 840,000 hectares, compared with 460,000 in Brazil, the study said.

Restricted Lands

Almost 40 percent of total primary forest loss was within national forests with restricted clearing. Jokowi and Prabowo didn’t say whether they will extend a moratorium on new permits to develop peatlands and primary forests if they are elected, Maitar said. Indonesia imposed the moratorium, set to expire in 2015, as part of an agreement with Norway for $1 billion in assistance for forests protection.

Lacking a single national forestry map has resulted in overlapping permits and contributed to forests degradation, said Jokowi, 53.

“It may be only 1 centimeter difference in the map, but on the ground, hectares of our forests are gone for other purposes,” he said. “If we have a one-map policy, problems related to forest destruction can be solved.”

Campaign Promises

In their final debate last weekend, the candidates addressed efforts to increase production of energy and food as well as environment issues including climate change and forests protection. Jokowi, currently governor of Jakarta and owner of a furniture export business, narrowly leads election polls.

Prabowo proposed tough sanctions for companies that violate forestry policy and use of satellites to detect illegal logging. “We must educate our law enforcers so that they can protect our forests, as forests are our future,” he said at the debate.

Prabowo is president of Nusantara Energy, which has interests in pulp, forestry, mining and commercial fishing. He has promised 2 million hectares of new paddy fields to increase food supply, while Kalla said his government will create 1 million hectares of paddy fields. Conversion of wetland forests, including peat-lands to agro-industrial uses has increased in the past two decades, according to the Nature Climate Change study.

Yudhoyono pledged in 2009 to cut greenhouse-gas emission by 26 percent using Indonesia’s own funds or as much as 41 percent with international aid by 2020.

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