Thursday, 15 November 2007

Indonesia Says It May Take Until 2014 to End Illegal Logging

Indonesia Says It May Take Until 2014 to End Illegal Logging
By Naila Firdausi and Arijit Ghosh

Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Indonesia may take at least seven years to halt illegal logging and deforestation in the world's third-largest tropical rainforests, according to the minister responsible for the trees.

Malam Sambat Kaban, minister of forestry, is seeking additional powers to catch and prosecute illegal loggers and may grant more rights to indigenous tribes. The government also plans to prod companies to replant trees by enforcing the terms of existing plantations licenses, he said.

``We are committed, we have a replanting program and we are proposing a law,'' Kaban said in an interview in Jakarta. ``We hope by 2014 the natural forest will not be disturbed.''

The seven-year target may be too slow for environmental groups and neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia, whose air has been made hazy by forest burn-offs in the Southeast Asian archipelago. Indonesia has granted logging rights over some 58 million hectares (143 million acres) of rainforest, an area bigger than France, and is trying to preserve a similar- sized tract.

``I think the 2014 expectation is impossible,'' said Rully Syumanda, a member of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Forum for Environment. ``Companies are not fulfilling their promises and there's corruption in the police and other authorities.''

Indonesia loses $3 billion to illegal logging annually and is struggling to conserve its forests amid rising demand for timber to make paper and land to plant oil palm and rubber trees, according to the World Bank. China, which buys most of Indonesia's timber exports, and India have been able to reverse deforestation, according to a study funded by the Academy of Finland and the National Science Foundation of China.

No Incentive
``There is no incentive in Indonesia to protect forests,'' said Fitrian Ardiansyah, program director for climate change at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Jakarta. ``The biggest challenge will be putting pressure on industry because there is a huge gap in the capacity put in place in the pulp and paper industry compared with the supply.''

Industrial demand for timber in Indonesia is about 60 million cubic meters a year, compared with supply of 12 million cubic meters from plantations and natural forests, according to World Bank data.

The country, the world's largest archipelago, ranks behind only Brazil and the Congo basin in the size of its tropical jungles.

In 2001, about 83 percent of the 59 million cubic meters of wood consumed in Indonesia came from illegal sources, according to the Bogor, Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research.

Illegal Logging
While illegal logging is on the decline, the nation may not be able to reverse deforestation any time soon, said Syumanda of the Indonesian Forum for Environment.

Illegal logging is rampant because of weak inspection and monitoring systems and because few offenders are prosecuted, Syumanda said. Of the 186 suspects arrested for illegal logging in the past two years, 13 have been sentenced, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency.

The government has proposed stricter laws that would force illegal loggers to forfeit assets if caught and convicted.

``We will empower the communities to take care of their forests,'' Kaban said. The proposed bill has been submitted to Parliament, and is expected to be enacted next year, he said.

Hilman Indra, deputy chairman of the parliamentary panel studying the proposed bill, confirmed receipt of the draft, though couldn't give details because he said he hadn't read it.

Emissions Credits
Indonesia may be willing to voluntarily curb the degradation of its forests in return for emissions credits, Alex Kaat, a spokesman for environmental group Wetlands International, said in July. The country is the world's third-biggest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions after the U.S. and China, and the biggest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions from drained peatlands, according to the World Bank.

The government would get 360 million euros ($529 million) a year in tax revenue starting in 2013 from selling credits to companies and countries attempting to meet their emission limits, Gabriel Thoumi, a consultant and fellow at the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said in October.

Indonesia's government also expects to convince developed nations at a United Nations meeting on climate change in Bali next month to provide funds to conserve the world's tropical forests, presidential spokesman Dino Pati Djalal said.

Developed nations also have to help Indonesia by refusing to accept illegal timber, said Julian Newman, who represents the Environmental Investigation Agency in Indonesia.

``The markets in the U.S., Europe and China are still open for illegal timber,'' said Newman. ``There is no international agreement to curb the movement of illegal wood.''