The Palm Scribe

Environment Activists Want Firmer Legal Base for Forest and Peat Moratorium

A group of environmental activists on Tuesday (16/7) called for a two-year government moratorium on the issuance of permits for primary forests and peatlands that expires on Wednesday, to not only be made permanent but also be given a firmer legal base.

“We deem that the presidential instruction has not been effective enough as a legal instrument, because there is no enforcement,” Lola Abbas, National Coordinator for Pantau Gambut (Peat Monitoring) told journalists at a discussion in Jakarta, adding that “If it is made into a presidential regulation, it would be one of the solutions to strengthen this regulation.”

“The hope is, that besides having its legal foundation strengthened by becoming a presidential regulation so that it becomes binding for all, supervision (of its application) should also be upheld,” said Teguh Surya, Executive Director of the Yayasan Madani Berkelanjutan (Sustainable Civil Society Foundation) said at the same occasion. Teguh said, the moratorium has already been extended repeatedly since 2011 but its enforcement and supervision did not run well.

“Despite the moratorium on new concession on forest and peatlands, there have been 19 concessions issued for forest areas, nine of them are for oil palm plantations,” Teguh said, adding that environmental groups represented at the event, were in full support of the government’s efforts to make the moratorium permanent, but it should be further sharpened and have an added value.

In May 2011, the government released a presidential instruction (Inpres, Number 10 of 2011) on ‘The postponement of issuance of new licenses and improving, governance of primary natural forest and peatland’. The move, that was part of cooperation with Norway to meet Indonesia’s voluntary commitment to reduce emission, effectively meant a two-year moratorium on new forest concession licenses. The moratorium has since been extended in 2013, 2015, and last, in 2017.

But Teguh said, that a presidential instruction concerned is limited to a number of ministries and other government agencies and as a non-legislative document, there are no legal consequences if its instructions are not implemented.

The initial inpres on the moratorium issues instructions to three ministers — Forestry, Home Affairs and Environment– and the heads of five agencies –Presidential Delivery Unit for Development Oversight, National Land Agency, National Coordination Agency for Spatial Planning, National Coordination Agency for Survey and Mapping and the proposed agency to manage REDD+, as well as governors and heads of district governments. Two important ministries closely related to deforestation and associated land-based emissions are not included —  Agriculture and Energy and Mineral Resources.

Zenzi Suhadi from Indonesia’s Friends of the Earth (WALHI) said since 2011 there have been concessions released for forested areas totaling 18 million hectares, showing that despite the moratorium, enforcement was weak.

“It is not enough to have the moratorium as a presidential instruction, If we really want to save forests…it should have a regulatory nature, with a legal validity that not only binds the government but also provides a legal umbrella,” Zensi said.

Teguh said that a more permanent moratorium should also deal with the problems plaguing the current moratorium. He pointed out to the failure to include secondary forests and logged-over forests in the moratorium represent a lost opportunity to protect a fraction of the country carbon and biodiversity-rich forests. He also cited the moratorium’s exceptions for activities related to food and energy security, saying that they created loopholes that could undermine the suspension of new concession licenses.

Abimanyu Sasongko Aji, project manager of Kemitraan-Partnership said that after having been extended repeatedly in the past eight years, the moratorium should have a permanent legal foundation. “Even after five years, it should have already been made permanent,” Aji said, adding that “We are waiting for a more solid initiative from them (the government) if they really want to protect the remaining forests.”

Aji said that any new permanent form of the moratorium should assure access to the forest for communities through the designation of social forests.

For Lola, one of the main problems facing the application of the moratorium is, there were many overlapping government regulations on peat. “Overlapping regulations seems like providing loopholes allowing the clearing of peatland. It should be: if it is peatland, then it should not be touched.”

Indah Fatinaware, Executive Director of Sawit Watch said that when made permanent, the moratorium should also make it mandatory for companies to conduct restoration of the peat ecosystem in their concession areas. It should also require a review of all concessions, like for the moratorium on new palm oil concessions.

Teguh also cautioned that with the expiration of the current moratorium, as well as the period between the presidential election and the actual installation of the new president, the authorities should be extra vigilant because these periods opened the opportunity for politically-motivated and interest-based concession awards by unscrupulous sides.

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