Women in harvest ground nuts in teak forest area. Photo credit: Murdani Usman/CIFOR
Women in harvest ground nuts in teak forest area. Photo credit: Murdani Usman/CIFOR

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Boosting Achievements from Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

Indonesia ranks as one of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely due to the clearing of forest and peat lands. The forest moratorium aims to address this problem by prohibiting the award of new licenses to clear or convert primary natural forests and peat lands to agriculture or other uses. This will encompass an area of over 43 million hectares of land. Forest users with existing licenses are still allowed to operate in these regions, and there are several exceptions to the rule.

The biggest achievement of the moratorium thus far is that it created a much-needed window of opportunity to begin developing critical forest governance reforms. Now that the government has extended the moratorium, it’s important that these reforms are not only implemented, but strengthened to truly benefit Indonesia’s forests and the people who depend on them.

A few opportunities for further reforms include:

  1. Tracking Forest Permits: Currently, national agencies and local government offices oftentimes do not share information with each other on permits for logging, mining, palm oil development, and other forest uses. As a result, multiple forest users may operate in the same area, creating confusion and conflict. Indonesia’s REDD+ Task Force, the government body in charge of coordinating all REDD+-related activities, is currently capitalizing on the moratorium to develop an online, publicly accessible database of all forest licenses in the country. The team aims to publicize all permits from one province, Central Kalimantan, by June 2013. The Task Force should expand this process to Indonesia’s remaining 33 provinces after the pilot project.

  2. Strengthening the Permit Review Process: Before the moratorium, government agencies lacked technical guidance on how to review a permit’s compliance with Indonesian regulations—such as the limits on converting peat lands and the steps required to obtain a forest license. The REDD+ Task Force is currently piloting a new review process in three districts in Central Kalimantan and evaluating how permits comply with Indonesian rules and regulations. However, it is unclear if or how this assessment will impact illegal permits. If successful, this initiative should give rise to a stronger national policy on granting and reviewing forest permits.

  3. Designating Forest Area: Indonesia, like many nations, designates “official” Forest Estate (Kawasan Hutan) through zoning. The designation of forest area provides the foundation for deciding what types of forest use can occur and where. It’s a critical first step for improving land-use planning and forest management. However, due to conflicts between national and subnational governments, Indonesia’s forest delineation process is only 14 percent complete. The moratorium allows the REDD+ Task Force, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry and local governments, to pilot measures to overcome conflicts and accelerate delineation. The Task Force has begun this work in one district, South Barito in Central Kalimantan, but it still needs to be completed and then applied to the rest of the country.

  4. Accelerating Spatial Planning: A slow Forest Estate delineation process has stalled the development of district and provincial land use plans, which help direct public and private investments. Only 45 percent of Indonesian provinces and 56 percent of districts had finalized their spatial plans as of April 2013. The moratorium prompted creation of an agency to guide this process, but it has not yet accelerated spatial planning to the degree necessary.

  5. Formalizing Community Plans: Regions occupied by local, traditional communities, known as adat areas, have historically been left out of Indonesia’s formal spatial planning system, the Rencana Tata Ruang Wilayah (RTRW). Ignoring adat communities’ land rights spurs poverty, hinders economic development, and deters environmental stewardship. During the moratorium, the REDD+ Task Force invited civil society to submit community maps and land use plans. However, because the moratorium doesn’t require full recognition of adat lands, government ministries must provide further clarity on how community plans will be incorporated into the formal spatial planning process.

Indonesia's forests are home to countless wildlife, including endangered species like orangutans. Photo credit: Eko Prianto, CIFOR

3 Ways to Strengthen Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

Extending the forest moratorium can help ensure that ongoing governance reforms reach their full potential. But to really capitalize on the extension and improve the forest sector, the government should also pursue new reforms, such as:

  1. Evaluating Greenhouse Gas Emissions During Permitting: Authorities who issue forest use permits lack the tools they need to evaluate the proposed activity’s potential greenhouse gas emissions. The new online permit database should be combined with data on forest cover, peat land extent, and carbon stocks to account for emissions risks. This review process could also support efforts to shift agricultural expansion from forested land to non-forested, “degraded land.” WRI estimates that there are more than 14 million hectares of low-carbon, degraded land in the four Kalimantan Provinces alone.

  2. Disseminating Technical Guidance at the Local Level: WRI and partners recently interviewed forest agency officials in eight districts to assess the level of local understanding of the moratorium. While all respondents were aware of the moratorium, just five out of eight knew the types of land protected, while only three had accessed the map delineating these areas. Ensuring a basic level of understanding at the district level will be a critical next step for boosting the moratorium’s application.

  3. Better Monitoring and Enforcement: The same forthcoming study revealed that half of district forest service respondents did not know who was responsible for monitoring the moratorium. Many said there were no mandated monitoring activities, and if there had been violations, they did not know where to report them. A robust monitoring and enforcement system is essential to ensuring an effective moratorium.

Curbing deforestation, reducing emissions, and improving quality of life for millions of Indonesian citizens all hinge on sound forest governance. Extending the moratorium for two more years does not guarantee more emissions reductions or better forest management, but it’s a critical starting point. Now it’s time to capitalize on this opportunity and move forward with forest sector reforms.