Why Indonesia's deforestation ban isn't enough to protect its forests

Posted by Richardg — 21 May 2013 at 9:32am - Comments
Clearance of forested tiger habitat in Sumatra, Indonesia
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace
Clearance of forested tiger habitat in Sumatra, Indonesia

The president of Indonesia has banned deforestation for another couple of years. This is great news - but we aren't celebrating just yet, because most of its rainforest remains unprotected.

Earlier this week, the Indonesian president extended the country's deforestation ban. It gives us two more crucial years to get a grip on the pulp and paper and palm oil companies that are trashing the forests and pushing animals like the Sumatran tiger to the edge of extinction.

So why aren't we celebrating?

Unfortunately, the deforestation ban is still full of loopholes. Almost half of Indonesia’s primary forests and peatlands still have no protection from chainsaw-happy companies.

This is because Indonesia's deforestation ban is not really a ban on deforestation. It's a ban on new concessions (which are permits to log, mine or set up a palm oil plantation on a particular patch of land) for areas of 'primary' forest and carbon-rich peatlands.

Most of Indonesia's rainforest has been damaged by illegal logging, mining or forest fires. These forests are not covered by the deforestation ban. Nor does the ban extend to concessions that had already been allocated.

If a company had already been given permission to log an area of forest before the ban came in, then it would be legally entitled to chop down all the trees, ban or no ban.

Enforcement is also a major problem. Local officials are often unwilling to prosecute companies that are logging illegally. If the government is serious about protecting the forests, it must enforce its forestry laws and make corruption something you only read about in history books.

We're running out of time to save Indonesia's forests. Every year, there is a little less jungle - and a lot more plantation.

That's why I'd rather have a weak deforestation ban than a forest destroyers' free-for-all. Just don't ask me to put on my party hat until those loopholes are closed and the forests - and the people, the tigers and the orang-utans which depend on them - are protected.

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