By Chris Lang, 28th March 2012
Dozens of fires are blazing in a peatswamp in Aceh, in the north of Sumatra, Indonesia. Some of the hotspots are in a concession area belonging to a company called PT Kallista Alam. According to WALHI, the concession is in breach of Indonesia’s two-year moratorium. The concession is subject to an on-going court case.
The forest is an important habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan. Nevertheless, the destruction of the Tripa peatswamp forests has been taking place for several years. In June 2009, the Independentspoke to Riswan Zein, of Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari, an Indonesian conservation group. Riswan flew over the Tripa forest in 2007. “So much forest gone, and all in two years, my God,” he told the Independent. “If nothing is done, there’ll be no forest left in one to two years.”
A few years ago PanEco, made a film that highlights the destruction of the Tripa peatswamp. According to PanEco’s website, since the film was made, PT Astra Agro Lestari, a subsidiary of the British conglomerate Jardines Matheson Ltd, has stopped clearing forest in the Tripa peatswamp. But a recent press release from YEL states that PT Astra Agro Lestari is behind some of the current fires in the Tripa peatswamp.
Indonesia’s moratorium, part of the US$1 billion REDD deal between Indonesia and Norway, is supposed, in theory at least, to be addressing problems like that clearing of the Tripa peatswamp forest. In May 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a Presidential Instruction bringing the moratorium into force. A detailed moratorium map highlights areas in pink that are protected under the moratorium. These maps are updated every six months. While there are loopholes in the moratorium, it is supposed to stop new concessions and it is supposed to protect primary forest. In Tripa, the moratorium has neither stopped a new concession nor has it protected primary forest.
In August 2011, Irwandi Yusuf, the governor of Aceh, signed a permit for a new concession in the Tripa peatswamp, despite the existence of the moratorium and despite the fact that the concession area was highlighted in pink on the moratorium map. A local NGO, Tim Koalisi Penyelamatan Rawa Tripa (TKPRT – Coalition Team for the Rehabilitation of Tripa), produced a series of maps that clearly show that the concession awarded to PT Kallista Alam should have been out of bounds for oil palm plantations, at least for the two years that the moratorium runs. In November 2011, WALHI Aceh filed a legal case against Governor Irwandi in the Administrative Court.
But when the most recent version of the moratorium map was released on 9 December 2011, the area of the PT Kallista Alam’s concession had disappeared. In a press release from WALHI, Riswan Zein explains how this happened:
“I spoke with several of the staff of the PIPIB working group who revised the Moratorium map, about the removal of the that new concession area in the revised version of the map issued in November 2011. They told me that all the changes in the map, including the supposed Kallista Alam area in Tripa, were made at the lobbying of companies. In the case of the contested Kallista Alam concession, staff from the National Land Agency (BPN) appeared with a map of the new concession and told the mapping staff to remove it from the Moratorium map. There was no other information provided, no data on a permit number, when it was mapped, or when it was issued . . . nothing!”
Riswan explains that this was confirmed at a meeting that took place in Bandung in February 2012. At the 2nd Asian Forum on Carbon Updates, Arif Darmawan of UKP4 (Presidential Working Unit for Supervision and Management of Development) and Wahyunto and Kusumo Nugroho of BBSDLP (Indonesian Centre for Agricultural Land Resources Research and Development) told the Forum that 44 different companies (including PT Kallista Alam) had lobbied for areas to be removed from the moratorium map.
While crucially important, the Tripa peatswamp forests are only the tip of an iceberg that could sink the moratorium. An analysis by Daemeter Consulting found that an area of 4.8 million hectares of peatlands had been removed from the moratorium map, while 1.2 million hectares of primary forest had been added.
Despite the fact that the moratorium is an important part of the US$1 billion Indonesia-Norway REDD deal, Norway’s Ambassador in Jakarta, Eivind S Homme, seems remarkably relaxed about the destruction that is taking place in the Tripa peatswamp forests. In February 2012, Homme told Aftenposten that,
“The Indonesian authorities are still investigating this matter and we await their conclusion. The moratorium is one of Indonesia’s chosen tools for reducing deforestation, therefore, any violation of the moratorium is serious. We expect that the moratorium be followed up and violations of it be prosecuted.”
Unfortunately, by the time the Indonesian authorities have finished investigating this matter, the forest will be gone.