When A Deforestation Moratorium Doesn’t Matter

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Indonesia Orangutans by LJWorld.comWhen I think of a moratorium from a forest perspective, normally it is a very good thing. Convincing corporations or governments to agree to a moratorium that halts deforestation can be like placing a big fat stop sign in front of bulldozers at the edge of a forest.

But in the case of Indonesia, are we waiting for a moratorium that the bulldozers will blow right by?

The jury is still out on whether the moratorium on natural forest and peat conversion in Indonesia will matter. As Reuters reported, the moratorium announced by Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono months ago missed the January 1 deadline for having important details sorted out and signed into law. Unsurprisingly the sticking point appears to be two competing drafts — one from the Presidential task force, one from the Ministry of Forestry. At stake is not just where the stop signs should be placed but even whether or not there should be any stop signs at all.

According to Reuters, which was given access to the draft plans:

The forestry ministry wants the ban only on new permits to clear primary forests and peatlands for two years, while the presidential delivery unit wants it to include secondary forests, to review existing permits and consider extending the timeframe.

Translated for the rest of us, this means that if the forestry ministry prevails we could see a moratorium that, among other shortcomings, doesn’t protect forests, peatlands, or orangutans. Nor would it provide a sound basis for low-carbon development opportunities or the emissions reductions targets called for by the president.

In Indonesia we see many overlapping land claims and massive swaths of natural tropical forest that are still undeveloped but already licensed for corporate exploitation and conversion. Excluding existing permits from the moratorium is a bulldozer-sized loophole.

As we lose primary natural forests at an alarming rate, many orangutans are pushed into forests that were logged years ago but have grown back. These are natural forests, but they’re now known as “secondary forests.” These secondary forests are still inhabited by the Indigenous communities that have lived there for generations, and have also become critical habitat for dwindling orangutan populations. Not including natural secondary forests means goodbye local rights, goodbye local economies, goodbye orangutan habitat. Ask our friend above if she feels better about the destruction of her home because it is considered “secondary” forest. Are we really ready to kiss the orangutan goodbye?

And hang on a minute, wasn’t it already against the law to issue permits to clear primary forests and deep peatlands? Hadi Daryanto, a member of the Indonesian task force, claimed during a Voice of America interview that existing law has already stopped the national government from issuing permits for primary forests. If this is true, it starts to feel like we’re trying to place that stop sign in quicksand.

Unless the Ministry of Forestry is willing to align its plans with the President’s task force, Indonesia may have debated for months only to end up with a moratorium that doesn’t matter.

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