Aug 28, 2014

    Jakarta fights deforestation through licence checks


    INDONESIA'S latest tactic for slowing the world's fastest rate of deforestation is to crack down on licensing of companies with concessions for agriculture on peat lands and rainforests.

    The agency for Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd+) is auditing 18 companies to check for proper licensing, Heru Prasetyo, head of the Redd+ office in Jakarta, said in an interview.

    The country's laws and the way they are enforced need to be changed, he added.

    "After we review the licences, we register them and we start doing the dirty things like revoking the licences," Mr Prasetyo said.

    "Three companies are being prosecuted," he added, declining to identify them.

    A lack of central government oversight and corruption in licensing, traditionally done at the local level, contribute to illegal burning of Indonesia's peat lands and forests.

    The environment ministry is separately investigating 29 cases this year against 26 companies accused of using fires to clear land in Riau, a national centre for palm oil, pulp and paper production.

    Only seven criminal cases involving forest fires were filed last year.

    The audits come after Singapore passed a Bill last month on transboundary haze to fine companies proven to engage, authorise or condone acts that contribute to haze. The city- state endured its worst-ever air quality last year.

    Indonesia lost more than 6 million hectares of its primary forest, which is an area the size of England, from 2000 to 2012. The deforestation rate surpasses that of Brazil, said scientists in Nature Climate Change on June 29.

    Indonesia, estimated to be the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States because of deforestation, has imposed a moratorium on new permits to develop peat lands and primary forests. The ban, set to expire in May next year, is part of an agreement for US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion) from Norway.

    Joko Widodo, who takes over as president of Indonesia in October, plans to continue the moratorium, said Sonny Keraf, Indonesia's environment minister from 1999 to 2001 and adviser to Jokowi, last month.

    The president-elect also wants to deploy a network of drones to help monitor and stop land misuse.

    "The pressure that we have now is not to end the moratorium at a certain year, but at a certain condition," Mr Prasetyo said. "When governance is already set and regulations are already proper, then we can say the moratorium is over and you can apply for licences using the new governance processes."