Indonesia deforestation now ‘worse than Brazil’

Indonesia’s forest loss is accelerating each year, despite a moratorium on logging, study finds

Pic: World Bank Photo Collection

Pic: World Bank Photo Collection

By Sophie Yeo

Forests in Indonesia are disappearing faster than in the Amazon in Brazil, a study has found.

Brazil is well known for its struggles to beat deforestation, but the situation is worse in Indonesia, found the researchers writing in Nature Climate Change, with severe consequences for global warming.

Forests store carbon in their trees and peatlands, absorbing CO2 from the air.

Deforestation a significant contributor to heating up the planet – the UN’s climate science  IPCC report estimating that land use change, primary deforestation, is responsible for around 10% of human emissions.

Indonesia cleared around 0.84 mega hectares (mega = million) of primary forest in 2012, compared to 0.46 Mha in Brazil, the study found.

The country is the world’s largest supplier of palm oil. Plantations cover about 8 million hectares of land and form a key part of the country’s economy.

Severe forest fires linked to palm oil production last year were blamed for a pall of smoke hanging over Malaysia and Singapore last year.

Almost all of the deforestation chronicled in this latest study occurred on land already been degraded by loggers.

This is a particular threat because these fragile lands are still effective at sequestering carbon, as well as a rich source of biodiversity.

“Even though the forest is already degraded at some point we have to support the forest so it can have its own cycle to get it back to the full quality of the forest,” Belinda Arunarwati Margono, a scientist at Maryland University and the paper’s lead author told RTCC.

“If it’s not maintained it’s going to be gone.”

Getting worse

The rate of Indonesia’s forest loss is speeding up, despite a moratorium on new clearing permits imposed by the government in 2011.

Year on year, deforestation increased by an average of 47,6000 ha of primary forest loss. This is more than any other tropical country, the study found.

Around 40% of the losses occurred within land where clearing is restricted or prohibited.

The continued deforestation casts doubt on whether the moratorium – which was extended for a further two years in 2013 – is the most effective way to manage clearing and logging, the study suggests.

“Although Indonesia recently implemented an implicit deforestation moratorium, beginning in May 2011, it seems that the moratorium has not had its intended effect,” write the authors in the study.

“In fact, the first full year of this study within the moratorium period, 2012, experienced the highest rates of both lowland and wetland primary forest cover loss.”

They suggest the possibility that the moratorium could have been a driver of the increased deforestation in this year.

“Most likely stopping the logging will be a long process. It takes time to bring everybody to this issue and increase governance within Indonesia itself,” said Margono, who worked for seven years for Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry.

The purpose of the study was to provide the information to “to help the government to do a better job,” she said.

Read more on: Nature | | | |