Indonesia — Next month all eyes will be on Bali when Indonesia hosts a major UN climate change conference.
Meanwhile Indonesia itself is losing a soccer-field size swathe of forest every 10 seconds, contributing to the peat-land degradation and fires which make the country the world’s third worse emitter of greenhouse gases.
And this week the nation’s environmental credentials took another hit when an infamous illegal logging baron walked free from a court in Sumatra.
Jakarta correspondent Geoff Thompson reports.
GEOFF THOMPSON: It was only last night in a rare media interview with Al Jazeera that Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was spruiking his administration’s environmental credentials ahead of his hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change next month.
SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO: We do a lot in preserving environment and preserving our forests. Many illegal loggers put behind bars that we’ll continue to do so to save our future, the people of Indonesia.
GEOFF THOMPSON: But the President’s boast took a blow this week with the acquittal of an alleged illegal logger, Adelin Lis, dubbed an “environmental destroyer” by the Yudhoyono Government when he was arrested in Beijing after six months on the run when he attempted to renew a visa at an Indonesian embassy.
Adelin Lis’ web of companies are accused of logging $30 billion worth of Sumatra’s timber outside concession areas between 1998 and 2005.
Prosecutors wanted to send him to jail for 10 years but instead he walked free from court this week when judge’s declared the illegal logging charges technically invalid because Mr Lis was a concession owner using private funds.
The sort of outrage expressed by Greenpeace Indonesia’s forest campaigner, Bustar Maitar, has echoed among environmentalists this week.
BUSTAR MAITAR: Of course, yeah, everybody know what Adelin Lis doing in the field, to cut down the forest, and yes, the Minister of Forestry he have the legal permit, but what he doing in the field, he’s doing – cut down the forest outside his concession inside the national park, and everybody know. And now the police is still believe he is doing wrong in the field and police now is trying to get him again to the judge.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Indonesia’s Forestry Minster Malam Kaban with Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar is spearheading efforts to convince the parties at next month’s meeting that tropically forested countries like Indonesia deserve carbon credits if they can stop deforestation.
That argument was not helped by the revelation that a letter from the Forestry Minister was produced during Adelin Lis’ trial arguing that his companies’ activities were only “administrative violations”.
This sparked a stinging slanging match between the Forestry Ministry and Indonesia’s police who are angry at his acquittal and determined to bring Adelin Lis back to court for alleged money-laundering offences.
“Doesn’t the Minister realise that in December, we’ll be the host of a global meeting on the environment?” Indonesia’s national police spokesman Sisno Adiwinoto told the ABC.
“How badly has he ruined our reputation now? He’s said that the police and the prosecutors need to take a good hard look at themselves – when really, he’s the one who should do it,” said Sisno Adiwinoto.
Adelin Lis’ lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea passionately defends his client as a legitimate logger who cannot be pursued for money-laundering, because he has not committed a crime.
HOTMAN PARIS HUTAPEA: I can show you all the documents that he’s fully licensed and there is also no proof that he destroyed the forest. That’s totally bullshit and wrong accusation. So many illegal logging out there without the licence, why they accusing a good citizen?
GEOFF THOMPSON: Nevertheless, the day after his acquittal police went to Adelin Lis’ home with plans to arrest him again, but the man who has nothing to hide had disappeared once more.
Frances Seymour is the director general of the Centre for International Forestry Research based near Jakarta in Bogor.
FRANCES SEYMOUR: Successful prosecution of the big fish involved in illegal logging are rare everywhere. In fact, often when there are crackdowns against forest crime, they tend to be more directed at the little guy with the chainsaw rather than the big guy with the bank account. But a positive feature in the recent case is that it has prompted a discussion of the use of pursuing money-laundering charges against the accused illegal logger, and Indonesia’s to be commended for being the first country to explicitly include forest crimes as a predicate offence in its anti money laundering legalisation
GEOFF THOMPSON: But ahead of the Bali meeting, the greatest worries about Indonesia’s forestry credentials are focused on the booming trade in palm oil, a carbon-neutral product used in bio-fuels and in one-tenth of supermarket products like snacks and cosmetics.
Indonesia’s forests are being converted into palm oil plantations at the rate of 2,600 square kilometres a year, a rate which apart from the obvious carbon cost, is also expected to destroy the last natural habitats of Borneo’s orangutans within 15 years.
Orangutans are now estimated to be dying at the rate of 50 a week. The anthropologist Birute Galdikas runs a facility to care for those which survive. Of palm oil’s environmental value, she says, “It is like kicking your head to get rid of a headache”.