Deforestation near Labanan Makarti in Borneo

Environment Conserving valuable forest areas and promoting biodiversity

Indonesia is still home to the world’s third-largest rain forest (after Brazil and the Congo Basin). However, logging and too intensive use of the forest are causing more and more of this valuable natural resource to be destroyed.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 26 million hectares of forest were lost between 1990 and 2020 – an area about the size of New Zealand. Satellite images show that, between 1985 and 2014, on the island of Sumatra alone more than half of the primary forest was destroyed. In addition, peat bogs are being drained and cleared for agricultural use – to make way for palm oil plantations, for example. Since 2019, a permanent law has made draining peat bogs illegal (prior to that there was already a temporary ban on this activity). However, prosecution is difficult, especially in remote areas.

Vegetable plots at the foot of of the volcano Merapi, Indonesia

Vegetable plots at the foot of of the volcano Merapi, Indonesia

Vegetable plots at the foot of of the volcano Merapi, Indonesia

Fires release greenhouse gases

Slash-and-burn clearing by plantation owners is a regular cause of large-scale forest and peat fires in the dry season. According to figures compiled by the Indonesian environment ministry, in 2019 alone 329,000 hectares of forest were destroyed. However, deforestation has fallen to 110,000 hectares a year since then. In the “record year” of 2015 it had been one million hectares.

Unique biodiversity is lost when rain forests burn and the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change is decreased. The forest and peat bogs are also gigantic carbon sinks. Fire turns the sequestered carbon into carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Indonesia has thus become one of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide worldwide – with serious consequences for biodiversity and the global climate.

In 2015, the fires got totally out of control, leading to an environmental disaster. After that happened, policymakers at both the central and the provincial level decided to significantly scale up their efforts to protect the environment – a decision which has now produced visible results, such as deforestation rates that are falling each year. The government’s goal is to strike a balance between economic interests and the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

Efforts are to be made, among other things, to rehydrate drained peatlands, and systematic action will be taken to identify and punish those guilty of starting fires intentionally. Moreover, a decision was made to postpone the issuing of licences for new plantations and mines, and to delay the transformation of primary forest into agricultural land. In addition to that, the rights of the local population living in and from the forest to legally access and utilise forest resources are to be clarified and strengthened. In its development cooperation, Germany is supporting efforts to re-wet peat bogs on the eastern coast of Kalimantan (Borneo).

As at: 18/10/2023