Three ministers pledge to stop peatland conversion
Activists from environmental group Greenpeace have said that three ministers told them the government would stop issuing new permits to convert peatland.
Greenpeace made the announcement after speaking with Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan and Agriculture Minister Suswono in separate closed-door meetings earlier this week.
"Both have promised to halt new permits for peatland conversion, including in areas that are less than three meters deep," Joko Arif, a Greenpeace forest campaigner, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
"We hope Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta will follow through on the issue of *producing a* regulation to protect peatland."
A current draft of a government regulation says peatlands less than three meters deep can be converted to become any of 10 possibilities, including, plantations, fish farms, residential areas or mining or transmigration areas.
An existing decree issued by the Agriculture Ministry applies a total ban on the conversion of peatlands more than three meters deep.
Director general of forest production development at the Forestry Ministry Hadi Daryanto confirmed Greenpeace's claim.
"Minister Zulkifli will temporarily stop issuing new permits for the use of peatland, including for plantations and industrial forest," Hadi told the Post.
"Permits will only be issued for ecosystem restoration projects. But we will analyze the companies' profile to ensure the projects really aim to restore ecosystems in peatland."
However, Hadi said that companies that had already been issued with permits to convert peatland would not be affected by the new rule.
Greenpeace in its statement said that the promise to protect peatland should be kept, and cited the case of one destroyed area of peatland in Kampar Semenanjung in Riau.
"This intention *to protect peatlands* must be realized, as companies continue to clear and drain peatland like in Kampar Semenanjung," Arief said.
An independent team of experts formed by the Forestry Ministry reported that a canal built in Kampar Semenanjung by pulp and paper producer PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper to manage water levels near its factory had damaged a large area of peatland.
Indonesia has around 21 million hectares of peatland. Papua has 8 million hectares of peatland, Sumatra has 7.2 million hectares and Kalimantan has 5.8 million hectares.
With climate change now a serious topic worldwide, talks have stepped up to impose a moratorium on the conversion of peatland in Indonesia.
Masnellyarti Hilman, deputy minister for environmental damage control at the Environment Ministry said that her office was ready to revise the draft to totally ban peatland conversion.
Greenpeace has long called for a moratorium on peatland conversion to meet the government's target to cut greenhouse emissions by 26 percent by 2020.
- JP/Adianto P. Simamora