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Indonesia's Deforestation Dropped 60 Percent in 2017
By Hidayah Hamzah, Reidinar Juliane, Tjokorda Nirarta "Koni" Samadhi and Arief Wijaya
In the midst of the second-worst year for tropical tree cover loss in 2017, Indonesia saw an encouraging sign: a 60 percent drop in tree cover loss in primary forests compared with 2016. That's the difference in carbon dioxide emissions from primary forest loss equivalent to 0.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, or about the same emissions released from burning over 199 billion pounds of coal.
New data from the University of Maryland, released on Global Forest Watch, calculated tree cover loss—defined as the loss of any trees, regardless of cause or type, from tropical rainforest to tree plantation—within Indonesia's primary forest and protected peatland. The decline in tree cover loss in Indonesia was at odds with other countries' experiences last year, with record-high loss of tree cover in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second-highest level in Brazil, a spike in Colombia and forest disruption caused by storms in the Caribbean.
The decrease in Indonesia's tree cover loss is likely due in part to the national peat drainage moratorium, in effect since 2016. Primary forest loss in protected peat areas went down by 88 percent between 2016 and 2017, to the lowest level ever recorded. Additionally, 2017 was a non-El Niño year, which brought wetter conditions and fewer fires compared to past years. Educational campaigns and increased enforcement of forest laws from local police have also helped prevent land-clearing by fire.
Kalimantan and Sumatra experienced the largest reduction in primary forest loss between 2016 and 2017 by 68 percent and 51 percent respectively, with the largest reduction seen in South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and Jambi. On the other hand, West Sumatra and North Sumatra saw an increase in forest cover loss.
Protecting Indonesia's Peatlands
Protected peat areas, made up of over 3-meters (10-foot) deep carbon-rich organic soil, covered 12.2 million hectares (30 million acres), half of Indonesia's peatland hydrological area. The avoided emission from peat decomposition and peat conversion is equivalent to emission from burning 630 billion pounds of coal. Provinces with the greatest decrease of forest cover loss in protected peat areas are Central Kalimantan, Jambi and South Sumatra, provinces which experienced worst fires in 2015.
Such decrease may be partially driven by a longer wet season in 2017, resulting in fewer fires in peat and avoiding the 2015 fires crisis from happening again. However, the decrease also coincides with a number of government actions to curb land clearing in peatland and forests.
First, Indonesia's president established the Peatland Restoration Agency, tasked to coordinate the restoration of 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of peatland in Indonesia. Second, the government issued a regulation to ensure a suitable water level in peatland and ban all new land clearing and canal building on peatland, even in existing concession areas. Sub-national elections, which took place in June, may have also contributed to less peatland and forest fires as local politicians have greater incentive to prevent fires. This year's Asian Games, to be hosted in both Jakarta and Palembang (the capital of South Sumatra) in August, has also driven the government to intensify efforts to prevent the burning of forests and peatland.
Despite this progress, threats remain. Companies secured concession permits in large areas of protected peatland before recent protection efforts. More than a quarter of the 12.2 million hectares (30 million acres) of protected peatland has already got concession areas, dominated by pulpwood and palm oil plantations, or has the potential to be converted to plantations or agriculture.
To this end, the government issued a land swap program that obliges companies whose concessions contain at least 40 percent of protected peatland to protect and restore those areas of their concessions. In exchange, the government will compensate them with land elsewhere. The plan drew criticism from civil society organizations, which voiced concerns that more forests could be opened without clear and transparent data and land criteria, and from companies concerned that the regulations would be bad for business.
How Can Indonesia Leverage This Momentum?
First, international support for emissions reduction and green growth must be further strengthened, with this year's international climate meeting in Poland as a venue for all countries to evaluate and log a more ambitious emission reduction target. Indonesia's significant decrease in deforestation allows it to launch a more ambitious emissions reduction target and contribute to the global effort in raising ambition.
Second, sub-national governments need more political support for sustainable development. There is already evidence that this is on the rise in Indonesia, with the introduction of Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (sustainable district platforms) and green growth programs in South Sumatra and East Kalimantan.
Third, monitoring deforestation can be a valuable tool. Spatial data tools such as Global Forest Watch provide tree cover loss alerts in near real time, enabling the government and public to prevent the clearing of protected peat areas and forests. In Peru, weekly deforestation alerts help identify forest encroachment and construction of illegal logging roads in the Peruvian Amazon.
In Indonesia, monitoring government commitment to peatland protection is also part of the public's responsibility to ensure a healthy environment. Pantau Gambut, an Indonesian civil society coalition platform that provides information on the commitments from government, public, and companies, enables public to ask stakeholders to fulfill their pledges.
Finally, as a variation on the land swap, proposing a 'new scheme' of concessions by converting existing license on peatland into ecosystem restoration concessions could better meet the needs of all stakeholders, if it has a firm legal foundation and support from green business incentives.
If Indonesia keeps strengthening its forest protection and climate action, 2018 could be another promising year for Indonesia's primary forests, even when the dry season returns and the Asian Games are over.
Dora Hutajulu contributed to the analysis for this post.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.