Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Forests expand by 14m hectares: Ministry

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 02/17/2010

The Forestry Ministry claims the country’s total forested area has increased to 134 million hectares from the previous figure of 120 million hectares.

The ministry’s head of research and development, Tachrir Fathoni, said Monday the figure was based on analysis of Landsat satellite images from 2009.

“We’ll publish the new data in the official forestry statistics,” he told The Jakarta Post.

If verified, the new figure would make Indonesia the world’s second-largest forest nation.

That spot is currently occupied by the Democratic Republic of Congo with 133 million hectares, behind Brazil with 415 million hectares.

Tachrir said many officials within the Forestry Ministry had questioned the veracity of the data, given the country’s high rate of deforestation, in excess of 1 million hectares a year.

“It might be a matter of the accuracy of the equipment used to measure forest cover,” he said.

“In the past, we employed a manual system.”

Tachrir added the new figure had been made without ground checks.

Previously, the ministry claimed that based on Landsat image analysis from 2000, Indonesia had 120.3 million hectares of total forested area, of which 59.7 million hectares were in a degraded state.

Also on Monday, the ministry said a decree was in the works to count oil palm plantations as forests.

In 1997, around 1.8 million hectares of forest were cut down, with the figure spiking to 2.8 million
hectares a year between 1998 and 2000.

Since then, clearance rates have stabilized at 1.08 million hectares annually.

Forests have become a key bargaining tool in dealing with the issue of climate change, because of their role in absorbing carbon dioxide.

The bigger the forest, and hence its capacity as a carbon sink, the greater the financial incentives the host nation stands to gain.

Indonesia is currently seeking Rp 168 trillion (US$18 billion) in foreign aid to cut emissions by 15 percent by 2020 to meet its pledged emissions cut target of 41 percent.

Tachrir denied speculation the new statistic had been doctored toward a political end.

Indonesia is among a handful of developing countries that have set emissions cuts targets. The government says it will allot Rp 83 trillion to slash emissions by 26 percent by 2020, 14 percent of it coming from the forestry sector.

The NGO Greenomics Indonesia called on the ministry to reveal how it came up with the new figure.

“We were surprised by the data; it’s a huge increase, given the high deforestation rate,” Greenomics executive director Elfian Effendi told the Post.