Indonesia forest assessment casts an optimistic light on a complex issue

Indonesia forest assessment casts an optimistic light on a complex issue

30 July 2018

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  • Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest span of tropical rainforest, has published its first ever report on the state of its forests.
  • The reckoning is largely positive, highlighting declines in both the deforestation rate and forest fires in 2016 and 2017, thanks to policies spurred by devastating blazes in 2015.
  • Chief among these is a program banning the clearing of peatlands and ordering plantation companies to restore and conserve areas of peat within their concessions.
  • However, the rate of progress on the peat protection program, as well as community forest management reform, remains slow and underfunded. Experts also warn that the progress recorded over the past two years aren’t necessarily sustainable.

Indonesia has released its inaugural report on the state of its forests, highlighting recent successes in conserving an ecological treasure trove that makes up the third-largest span of tropical rainforest in the world.

The report, titled “The State of Indonesia’s Forests 2018”, was published with support from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which puts out its own annual report on the state of the world’s forests, and Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. It was first presented by Indonesia’s environment minister in Jakarta on July 11, and then at an FAO forestry committee meeting in Rome on July 16, attended by representatives from 99 FAO member countries.

The report’s findings are largely positive, with Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya saying she hoped it would provide a detailed, comprehensive and balanced portrait of the current state of Indonesia’s rainforests, and eventually dispel perceptions of Indonesia as a major deforesting nation.

The headline figure from the report is that Indonesia’s total forest area spans 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) — an area the size of South Africa — and accounts for 63 percent of the country’s total land area.

But not all of that area is “forest” in the generally understood sense of the word; only about 70 percent of it has tree cover, according to Siti. This stems from the Indonesian government’s definition of what constitutes a forest. Of the total forest area, more than half, or about 688,000 square kilometers (266,000 square miles), is designated as production forest, which includes vast swaths of pulpwood plantations that have often been carved out of primary rainforests.

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