JAKARTA: Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants his successor to continue his green legacy by prolonging the forest moratorium he set in motion in 2011.
Last year, he extended the policy, originally set to run until 2013, for a further two years.
The moratorium aims to protect over 63 million hectares of primary forests and peat lands by halting new utilisation and conversion licences.
It covers an area larger than the landmass of Malaysia and the Philippines combined, and is part of a swathe of environmental reforms initiated by Indonesia.
Susilo, who is set to leave office this October having served his full statutory two terms, said this during his keynote address at the Forest Asia Summit here on Monday. The summit runs until Tuesday.
“Indonesia has lowered its deforestation rate from 1.2 million hectares per year between 2003 and 2006 to 450,000 in 2011 and 600,000 in 2013,” he said.
Greenpeace in a statement called for Susilo to amend the Peat Regulation, a new law currently being discussed in parliament that aims to protect peat lands.
“President Yudhoyono’s legacy risks going up in smoke unless he strengthens legislation to protect all peatland and forests,” the statement said on Monday.
Greenpeace’s contention is that the regulations failed to set out a coherent approach to protect and manage all peatland.
The group has repeatedly aired concerns that the new law failed to protect shallow peat areas, which might be connected to deeper peat domes that could be subject to collapse, should their edges be drained or degraded.
Greenpeace said that despite its good intentions, the Peat Regulation failed to set out a coherent approach to protect and manage all peatland - a critical defence against peat fires and Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“These peat fires would not occur if Sumatra’s ancient, carbon-rich peat lands were not cleared and dried out to make way for industrial scale plantations,” it added.
In a conference session entitled Fire And Haze in South-East Asian Landscapes, Ahmad Dhiaulhaq of The Centre for People and Forests commented that more must be done to resolve the root causes of the haze issue.
He said that in many cases, conflict over land use rights led to apathy over fire outbreaks among local communities, whereas sometimes, fires may even be used as a tool to express dissatisfaction over conflicts.
“Government policies in the past meant land granted to concessions in Riau were not always on empty lands,” he said. “In some cases, there were people living there for generations and centuries.”
This, he said, gave rise to conflict among concessionaires and the local communities, resulting in deaths and injuries over the years.
“In 2012 alone, there were 37 injured and one death, with 27 injured and five deaths in 2013.
“This is a serious issue in Riau. Every year there are people killed, and people who have to move to other places from their village because of this conflict. (Tackling) the fires alone will not be enough, without (settling) land tenure conflicts,” he said.
Last year in June, forest fires from burning peatlands in Riau were the source of unprecedented atmospheric pollution levels, with Malaysia and Singapore being affected owing to prevailing south-western monsoon winds.
The Forest Asia Summit this year is themed around Sustainable Landscapes for Green Growth in South-East Asia.