Sunday, June 29, 2014

Indonesia is destroying its tropical rainforests faster than Brazil, and the rate is soaring despite a five-year moratorium on new clearing.

Indonesia is destroying its tropical rainforests faster than Brazil, and the rate is soaring despite a five-year moratorium on new clearing.

Exhaustive new figures show Indonesia is probably the single largest deforester in the world, and that most destruction is happening in lowland and peat forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the only habitat in the world where tigers, orangutan, elephants and rhinoceroses live together.

The University of Maryland study, derived from satellite data and published in Nature, gives the lie to official Indonesian figures that claim the rate of deforestation has slowed under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s national forest moratorium, imposed in 2009. Rainforest logging in Indonesia that threatens the existence of orang-utans.

Researcher Belinda Arunarwati Margono said between 2000 and 2012, Indonesia lost 6.02 million hectares of primary forest, and the rate of loss was accelerating. Indonesia overtook Brazil — which is four times the size — in 2011 and the highest rate of clearance, 840,000 hectares, was measured in the final year of the study, 2012.

Ms Margono, who works for the Indonesian forestry ministry but is on secondment to the University of Maryland, has collected raw data showing the rate to 2014, but that is not yet ready to release and she would not speculate on whether it showed a continuing upward trend.

Until now it has been virtually impossible to get accurate, up-to-date figures.

The study shows that 40 per cent of the clearing was happening illegally, “in limited production, conservation and protection forests”.

“Sumatra is more advanced in the rate of clearing, Kalimantan is behind that, and Papua far behind,” Ms Margono said. “But if there is no action, probably, some day Kalimantan or even Papua will have the same fate as Sumatra.''

Indonesian forests contain 10 per cent of all the world's plants, 12 per cent of its mammals, 16 per cent of reptiles and 17 per cent of bird species.

Deforestation and forest degradation, particularly in peatlands, drives greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Bank, Indonesia’s rate of destruction makes it the third largest emitter in the world after China and the US.

As he introduced his logging moratorium in 2009, Dr Yudhoyono promised to cut emissions by 26 per cent from business-as-usual by 2020, or 41 per cent with global assistance. The Norwegian government pledged $1 billion, and the Indonesian agency charged with reducing deforestation has recently said it needs $5 billion in global funds.

However, this study suggests the moratorium and its associated climate policy has failed. Population increases in Indonesia and the global demand for logs, pulp for paper and palm oil, is driving an unprecedented rate of forest clearance — much of it illegal. It’s facilitated by corruption in national and local governments in Indonesia and little or no attempt at law enforcement.

“Large wetland clearings are probably not caused by small holders, but by agro-industrial land developers,” the study concludes.

As lowland forest runs out, particularly in Sumatra, companies are moving on to drain and clear carbon-rich peatlands. This releases into the atmosphere carbon dioxide that has been stored for thousands of years.

The rate of clearing is also increasing in mountainous areas as easily accessible lowland forest runs out.

The study shows that 98 per cent of total forest losses were in “primary degraded forest”, which has been affected by human activity.

Ms Margono said that, typically, local populations or commercial operators move illegally into a primary forest and selectively log, floating trees down waterways to sell. The forest is degraded, but still stores significant carbon and biodiversity. But it is then cleared for plantations to supply pulp and paper mills, or simply burned to open up land for legal and illegal palm oil plantations.

A senior adviser with the Nature Conservancy, Wahjudi Wardojo, said the figures would allow new policy to be built.

“To some extent, we in Indonesia fail to account for natural values; we don’t account in a good way for natural infrastructure, or realise that even degraded natural forest is high value,” Mr Wardojo said. SMH

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