Monday, 8 February 2010

Conversions Continue Despite Calls For A Halt

Conversions Continue Despite Calls For A Halt

Source: The Jakarta Post – February 4, 2010
By Adianto P. Simamora

At least 10 provinces have submitted proposals for revisions of spatial planning bylaws to convert forests into commercial land despite mounting calls for a moratorium to protect the ailing environment. Senior officials from the Forestry Ministry pointed out the possibility that local administrations had converted the forests before submitting proposals to revise their spatial planning bylaws.

“An integrated team is currently evaluating proposals of forest conversion before deciding whether to agree with the proposed revision,” Ali Arsyad, secretary at the ministry’s National Planology Agency (Bapelan), told The Jakarta Post. The final decision over the forest conversion will be made by the House of Representatives based on recommendations from the forestry minister.

He said the ministry had submitted revisions of the spatial planning law in Central Kalimantan and Gorontalo provinces to the House for approval. Many local administrations rely on businesses such as mining, logging and plantations, which frequently occur in forests, for their local income. The House has so far approved the revision of spatial planning in Lampung, South Kalimantan and South Sulawesi, he said. Ali said that one of the main criteria in the assessment was to study what impact such revisions would have on the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

“One thing is for sure, converting virgin forests for commercial use is prohibited,” he said. The 2007 Spatial Planning Law allows local administrations to make their own spatial planning laws. Nur Masripatin, an official at the climate change unit at the ministry, said that forest conversion would worsen climate change and threaten Indonesia’s commitment to reducing emissions.

“Any forest conversion will threaten our emission-reduction targets,” she said. Indonesia, the world’s third-largest forest nation, has promised to cut 393 million tons of emissions released from logged forests and 280 million tons from peatlands by 2020. Both represent about 14 percent of the country’s pledge to reduce emissions by 26 percent.

Indonesia has long been under pressure to protect its forests and stop deforestation, with an estimated 1 million hectares logged each year. The National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) has also proposed a moratorium on forest and peatland conversion to deal with climate change. A 2009 study by Bappenas recommended a moratorium on peatland conversion and land-swap schemes to relocate existing licenses from the peatlands to prevent the expected release of over 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the area.

Indonesia has around 21 million hectares of peatlands, mostly in Sumatra and Kalimantan. A study by Greenomics Indonesia also found that forest conversion reached an alarming level with more than 10 million hectares of protected forest converted for commercial use. Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan admitted that many protected forests had been converted for commercial use.