SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Forested areas greater than the size of the Netherlands have been burned in Indonesia in the past five years, with 30% of the fires occurring on pulpwood and palm oil concessions, environmental group Greenpeace said on Thursday.
Greenpeace said analysis of official data showed 4.4 million hectares (10.8 million acres) of land burned over 2015 to 2019, with 1.3 million hectares of that lying in the concession areas.
The group’s report said eight of the 10 palm companies with the largest burned areas in their concessions for the five years have not been sanctioned.
Indonesia’s new jobs creation law, which activists say favours businesses at the expense of the environment, is “rolling out a red carpet” for more deforestation, it also said.
“Year after year they (companies) have broken the law by allowing forests to go up in flames,” said Kiki Taufik, head of the Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaign.
Indonesia’s environment and forestry ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
In February, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered government officials to find a permanent solution to prevent annual forest fires.
Indonesia has the biggest forests outside the Amazon and Congo and environmentalists say its remaining reserves may be exploited under the new labour law.
The government says the law aims to boost investment and competitiveness and create better quality jobs.
Among the changes in the new law that worry environmentalists is the removal of a minimum forest area.
Indonesian islands were mandated to have 30% forest cover per island, a benchmark policymakers call arbitrary and want replaced with more relevant metrics.
Three of the five companies Greenpeace said had the largest burned areas in their concessions from 2015 to 2019 are suppliers to Indonesia’s biggest conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group, and one of the country’s largest pulp and paper companies, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).
A spokeswoman for APP, which is part of Sinar Mas Group, told Reuters that APP has spent $150 million on a fire management system, and that it continues to help local communities transition away from slash-and-burn land clearing towards more sustainable methods.
A spokeswoman for Golden Agri-Resources, the palm oil arm of Sinar Mas Group, could not immediately provide comment.
GAPKI, Indonesia’s palm oil association, declined to comment and referred Reuters to the environment ministry.
Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Martin Petty and Tom Hogue