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Indonesia’s forest moratorium: halfway through, what has been achieved?

Indonesia should improve forest governance in the second year of its forest moratorium, said senior CIFOR scientist Daniel Murdiyarso.

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BOGOR, Indonesia (18.05.12)_Indonesia should continue to improve forest governance in the second year of its moratorium on new forestry concessions if the ban is to have a significant impact, said senior CIFOR scientist Daniel Murdiyarso.

This week marks the halfway point of the two-year moratorium on new logging permits for primary forest and peatlands, which was issued by the Indonesian President on 20 May 2011 as part of the government’s effort to reduce emissions from deforestation.

A key element of the initiative in its first year has been the release of the Indicative Moratorium Map, which is continually updated to show which areas are under license, and are thus exempt from the moratorium, and which are protected by the moratorium. Climate change scientist Daniel Murdiyarso has been closely watching the ban’s progress, and says that revisions to the map have revealed that extensive concessions had already been granted to mining, logging or palm oil companies by the time the moratorium took effect, so the area covered by the moratorium is less than originally anticipated.

“The objective of the moratorium is to hold back the issuance of permits. So to some extent the map is showing that, but on the other hand it is also showing the reality […] the fact that some areas are already under license,” he said.

He says the first revision of the map revealed that permits had already been issued for almost 5 million hectares of carbon-rich peatland that were previously thought to be covered by the moratorium.

However, he says the fact that this is now public knowledge is a significant step forward.

“The main output of the exercise is that it is getting more transparent. This is the first time in many years that Indonesia has released information about its forest cover, enabling the public to have a look at it.”

“Civil society is working more and more with the government in a positive way and responding to the situation. Because it is not only a matter of how to reduce emissions and improve the governance system, but also engaging stakeholders, and that has not been exercised for many years,” he said.

The suspension was conceived as a way to provide a ‘breathing space’ for Indonesia to improve its forest governance – but Dr Murdiyarso says progress has been slow.

“Certainly improvement of the governance system is a long term thing. That is to say we [have to] manage forests differently, and that needs a lot of change, in terms of people’s mindset, the organisation, the institutions, the rules and regulations – there are a lot of things to be done,” he said.

Over the next year, Dr Murdiyarso would like to see concerted efforts made to ensure the benefits of the ban will last beyond the two-year scope of the moratorium – and beyond the current Presidency, which will end in 2014.

“It’s a big challenge to change this process from an ad-hoc arrangement into a more permanent thing,” he said. “This will require the institutionalisation of the process on the one hand and improving institutional capacity on the other.”

One way of doing this, he says, would be to implement a system where logging companies could swap previously allocated concessions located in carbon-rich forest for areas of comparable value but with less carbon.

He says there is already a legal framework in place for this kind of exchange.

“The areas that are very rich in carbon, mainly the peatland areas, including in Central Kalimantan, Riau, and some parts of Papua – it will be very interesting to see how the moratorium will focus on these areas. Because this might be the last chance to save them.”

Dr Murdiyarso says that on its own the forest moratorium is not the answer to reducing Indonesia’s overall carbon emissions. But, he says, it is realistic to expect an improvement in forest governance over the next year.

“I think it’s quite misleading to say that with the moratorium we will reduce emissions significantly. But it is an enabling environment towards reducing emissions, at least until the governance system is settled, then we will be sure that progress is underway.”

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