Debunking the myth of Asian deforestation

The main environmental challenge of our time alongside climate change is the loss of primary forests and biodiversity. In 2019 the Global Forest Watch reported the loss of 11.9 million hectares of forest in the tropics: the equivalent of a football pitch every 6 seconds. After having felled forests and woodlands in Europe and North America, it is of vital importance for us to protect our remaining green lung. This is essential not only to guarantee the oxygenation cycles of the planet but also to protect its wide biodiversity. Deforested land is often used for crops (mainly soya), livestock farming or logging. Self-regulation by private individuals who invest in the felling of forests is difficult to apply, so judicious state intervention is badly needed.

Indonesia’s good example

Over recent years, many countries have adopted policies to prevent deforestation and safeguard protected wooded areas. One example is Indonesia. In 2019, in fact, it ranked third in the tropical area in terms of hectares of deforested land, after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the world, on the other hand, it ranked fifth after Russia, Brazil, Canada and the United States. Since 2017, however, the country has been implementing a series of actions to reduce deforestation. The annual deforestation rate continued to decline from 920,000 hectares in 2016 to 373,000 hectares in 2017 (-60%), to 339,000 in 2018 and 324,000 in 2019 (-5%).

The tools

How was such a result achieved?

§  In May 2011, the Indonesian Government imposed a two-year moratorium (Inpres No. 10/2011) on concessions and licences granting use of the country’s peatlands and primary forests. This was continuously renewed until the present day when it has become permanent.

§  In 2016, an update was made to the regulations for the protection and management of the peatlands (No. 71/2014). This was done in conjunction with the setting up of an Agency – the Peatland Restoration Agency – to protect the peatlands which are at high risk of catching fire, if they become too dry.

§  The agreement between Indonesia and Norway within the REDD+ framework has helped promote concrete action in the country in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The Government of Norway sets a disbursement up to 530 million NOK (approx. $56 million) to Indonesia for preserving its vast tropical rainforests to curb carbon dioxide emissions.  The collective action is formed in providing helps and assistances economically and politically to find a sustainable way to achieve a common goal: climate neutrality. It is important to note that Indonesia & Norway are also working closely to agree to a framework for continued collaboration beyond 2020.  The payment marks the last phase of Indonesia and Norway’s decade-long cooperation in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, known as the REDD+ mechanism.

§  Community education and training in the prevention of fires.

Not only the State

A series of further actions by private economic parties has also been effective in reducing deforestation. One example is RSPO certification for the Palm Oil Industry. A comparison with non-certified areas showed that RSPO certification has reduced deforestation by 33%. Also emblematic was the decision taken by the governors of Papua and West Papua. They recently signed a declaration undertaking to conserve 70% of the land under their jurisdiction, home to some of the country’s best-preserved forests. To continue developing their own economy they are looking towards Costa Rica. The solution? Eco-tourism.

Such is the decrease in deforestation, notwithstanding an intense fire season that destroyed extensive wooded areas in previous years. While some of the damage caused by the fires may not yet have been detected (2020 figures are expected), the three consecutive years mentioned show that Indonesia may well be on the right path. The partnership example between Norway and Indonesia should be followed by the broader group of producing and consuming countries. This is necessary because both are involved in the supply chain responsibility. A future step by the EU should then be taken into account to foster real positive results in this regard.

In the end, it will also be necessary to consider reforestation as the process towards a global equitable amount of forests between each State. This will remove a country’s proper CO2 emissions, allowing an adequate amount of land to be used for agriculture to achieve food security and sustainability. Looking the situation from upside down, again, Indonesia has a good equilibrium regarding this matter, in spite of what might be the real perception.  In fact, it has a great amount of conserved forests (50-45% c.a. of the total land available) and a smaller amount of agriculture-related fields (31% of the total land available) compared to other countries such as for example Germany, that has a greater amount of cultivated land (50-45%% c.a.) and a smaller amount of forests (33% c.a.).