Minister: Don't lose sight of Indonesia's 2020 forestry success stories

JAKARTA (FORESTHINTS.NEWS) - Amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has urged us not to lose sight of the major successes achieved throughout 2020, a year largely marked by great difficulties.

“We really shouldn’t overlook the many evidence-based success stories that have emerged during this pandemic year. These achievements have been far from easy considering that our generation has had no experience in dealing with such a pandemic," Minister Nurbaya told FORESTHINTS.NEWS (Dec 28).

Haze-causing fires mitigated

Minister Nurbaya began by pointing out how Indonesia successfully ensured that the much-predicted double-disaster of the persistent COVID-19 outbreak exacerbated by haze-causing fires did not become a reality.

“Not only were domestic haze-causing fires addressed through the effective implementation of a permanent solution, but we also made sure that transboundary haze did not become a critical concern for our neighboring countries at a time when they were also busy tackling the pandemic," she explained.

“It's not easy being us," said Minister Nurbaya to quote an expression frequently used by Manggala Agni, her ministry’s vaunted firefighter team, which has been working tirelessly on the ground, putting themselves at risk while many of us have had the option of working from home during the pandemic.

GDP boosted by forestry subsector

Minister Nurbaya also encouraged us not to lose sight of Indonesia's successes in the forestry subsector which has seen stable and positive growth, assisting the country’s GDP performance during this pandemic year.

For instance, despite the global pandemic, exports of forestry products did not decline significantly during 2020 and even remained in positive territory to certain countries.

“The positive role of the forestry subsector in our country's GDP, as typified by the continuing competitiveness of our forestry product exports, is just one of our numerous evidence-based success stories during this tough pandemic year for which we should be grateful," Minister Nurbaya enthused.

She emphasized that various moves had been taken and incentives offered to ensure the contribution provided by Indonesia’s forestry business sector remained at a stable and positive level.

These included the acclaimed move to reactivate Indonesia's timber legality assurance system (SVLK).

Two RBPs announced this year

Indonesia has also successfully brought down emissions due to reduced deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) under the leadership of President Joko Widodo.

This feat culminated in 2020 with the announcement of two results-based payments (RBPs), one from the Norwegian government and the other from the Global Climate Fund (GCF).

“The recognition Indonesia has deservedly earned from our emissions reductions efforts during previous years (2014-2016 and 2016-2017), as exemplified by these two remarkable RBPs announced in this pandemic year, is also among our success stories, especially given the internationally-verified evidence that backs this up," Minister Nurbaya asserted.

She also reminded that some of the country's successes, including those in 2020, have been achieved with the support of the Indonesian government's clear budget power, declaring that, “We were certainly not empty-handed when it came to successfully procuring the two RBPs.”

Flagship species still protected by permanent moratorium

Throughout 2020, Minister Nurbaya continued, the permanent moratorium on the development of primary forests and peatlands stayed on track, with the area covered by the moratorium remaining at over 66 million hectares, equivalent to twice the size of the UK or larger than the whole of France.

The permanent moratorium continued to meet its objectives, including preventing deforestation and forest degradation, helping to maintain Indonesia’s unrivaled biodiversity, and preserving the country’s key habitats to ensure that critical wildlife populations continue to grow and thrive.

“The recent footage of Sumatran and Javan rhinos, which emerged from video traps in two national parks included in the permanent moratorium, has given us some very welcome good news during the pandemic," she said.

“Our ongoing efforts to make sure that no flagship species face extinction is yet another chapter in Indonesia's story of success during this pandemic year," she added.

Minister Nurbaya also pointed out that the Batang Toru hydropower project developer, PT NSHE, had obtained an approved AMDAL (Environmental Impact Assessment Document) this year from North Sumatra’s governor.

“The substance of this AMDAL document affords the highest possible level of protection to Tapanuli orangutans. Nonetheless, its implementation requires continual monitoring, both by my ministry and other stakeholders, to ensure that the safeguarding of the Tapanuli orangutans remains the top priority as the hydropower project development goes ahead," she stressed.

A significant swathe of the Tapanuli orangutan habitat lies within the permanent moratorium map, buoying Minister Nurbaya’s optimism that this newly-discovered species will never become extinct.

“In addition to the areas covered by the permanent moratorium, various forestry and palm oil concessions across Sumatra are among the areas inhabited by the Sumatran tiger, elephant and orangutan, while those in Kalimantan are among the areas playing host to the Bornean orangutan. This is all based on evidence and has been proven on the ground," she affirmed.

Palm oil expansion moratorium

Minister Nurbaya underlined that the palm oil expansion moratorium has seen an extensive deferment in the issuance of new palm oil permits from the relinquishment of state forest areas with good forest cover for new palm oil development.

“The success of the postponement of new palm oil permits from my desk, in accordance with the rules in the President's palm oil moratorium order, is another Indonesian success story which remains in the implementation phase," she said.

The minister proudly explained that a mere 0.2% of existing palm oil concessions in Papua and West Papua, which span an area of 1.26 million hectares or more than 17 times the size of Singapore, has been subject to deforestation (from the relinquishment of state forest areas) in the first two years of the palm oil expansion moratorium’s implementation.

“With the passing of the job creation law, forested areas that are not cleared for new palm oil concessions are no longer legally classified as abandoned lands because the carbon trading business allows them to maintain standing forests," she elaborated.

Social forestry enshrined in law

For the first time in Indonesia's history, Minister Nurbaya emphasized, efforts and initiatives to foster social forestry have been backed up at the legal level thanks to the passing of the country's job creation law.

“This is another part of Indonesia's success story recorded in this pandemic year. The fact that social forestry is now supported by an appropriate legal framework makes this one of the government's most powerful mainstream programs from a legal perspective," she reaffirmed.

According to the minister, “Currently, about 4.2 million hectares have been allocated and we are targeting an additional 8.5 million hectares by 2024, totaling 12.7 million hectares or 190 times the size of our capital city Jakarta. All these efforts are now taking place under the auspices of the law, which represents a real success story during this pandemic year.”

She pointed to evidence showing that before President Widodo took office, the business sector was extremely dominant in terms of permits issued in state forest areas.

For example, in the first year of President Widodo's leadership, corporations still received more than 95% of all permits issued in state forest areas, with the rest going to communities.

In contrast, Minister Nurbaya pointed out that next year the level of corporate permit issuances is expected to be around 81%, with a further reduction to less than 70% by 2024, meaning that the proportion of permits for communities and the public sector will increase to more than 30%.

Law enforcement further intensified

Minister Nurbaya stated that despite the ongoing pandemic, law enforcement actions remain a major priority, particularly when it comes to wildlife crimes, illegal logging and mining, and other related matters.

“On-the-ground law enforcement operations were still carried out during 2020, in spite of the pandemic," she said.

The effectiveness of forestry and environment-related law enforcement efforts during this pandemic year, she continued, is also testament to Indonesia's undeniable overall success, made all the more impressive by the difficulty in undertaking such activities amid the increasingly widespread COVID-19 outbreak.

“The ministry’s victories in a number of lawsuits this year have further justified the law enforcement measures we have taken," Minister Nurbaya asserted.

“These triumphs also constituted an Indonesian success story in the context of forestry and environmental law enforcement during the 2020 pandemic," she added.

Acceleration of post-mining rehabilitation

In Minister Nurbaya’s view, this year's pandemic has not delayed the acceleration of post-mining rehabilitation in the country.

In fact, over the course of the year, several leading firms were included among the 50 mining companies to fulfil their obligations in accelerating post-mining damage rehabilitation.

“The acceleration of post-mining rehabilitation was not only related to the expediting of environmental recovery, but also provided many new job opportunities during the 2020 pandemic,” she explained.

“The ongoing acceleration of post-mining rehabilitation during the pandemic has been another Indonesian success story, as are our attempts to turn these activities into a source of income for local communities, especially through community-based planting programs," said Minister Nurbaya.

“We truly appreciate these 50 mining companies which remain engaged in meeting their post-mining rehabilitation obligations during this difficult period, and thereby are contributing to vital new employment opportunities for communities," she added.

National economic recovery

Minister Nurbaya described how her ministry has focused, among other things, on its role in national economic recovery by placing community-based forestry and environmental recovery programs on the frontline of creating as many new job opportunities as possible, in particular at the grassroots level.

Community-based nurseries and planting, she outlined, are among the initiatives in the national economic recovery portfolio aimed at opening up new job opportunities for communities, especially those affected by the pandemic, including through community-based peat recovery and mangrove rehabilitation programs.

“The budget allocated for this, together with the implementation of these community-based programs, is also an Indonesian success story given the importance of environmental recovery as an essential component of the country’s overall national economic recovery,” she said.

“Creating massive job opportunities as part of the push for national economic recovery, including through forestry and environmental recovery programs, represents one more success story notched up by the Indonesian government in this pandemic year," Minister Nurbaya reiterated.

Extension of peat agency's tenure

Another of Indonesia's success stories, as explained by Minister Nurbaya, was the extension of the tenure of the country’s Peat Restoration Agency (BRG), which recently had added to its tasks the acceleration of mangrove rehabilitation, such that its name was changed to the Peat and Mangrove Restoration Agency (BRGM).

According to the minister, President Widodo's signing of an extension of the agency’s tenure for another four years (it was previously set to finish at the end of the year), as well as the expansion of its remit to include mangrove rehabilitation, unquestionably demonstrates his total commitment to the agency’s goals.

“This part of Indonesia's success story in this pandemic year really needs to be highlighted,” she said.

Hopes for next year

To wrap up, Minister Nurbaya emphasized that Indonesia's forestry and environmental achievements, as described above, form part of an indisputable overall story of success for which the country should be proud.

She expressed her hope that next year, the second year of the implementation of the permanent solution to tackling haze-causing fires will run as well as it did in 2020.

“We are hopeful and optimistic of stepping up even further all the successes that were achieved during the 2020 pandemic. Considering that next year, we will still be dealing with the pandemic and its various impacts, the handling of the national economic recovery and public health will remain at the forefront of all our efforts and endeavors,” said Minister Nurbaya in conclusion.

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Date    : 29 December 2020

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