Clearing land for timber and agriculture is likely to blame for Indonesia's latest bout of fires. According to data from Global Forest Watch—a new online system that tracks tree cover change, fires, and other information in near-real time—roughly half of these fires are burning on land managed by oil palm, timber, and logging companies—despite the fact that using fire to clear land is illegal in Indonesia.
WRI established its Indonesia office in 2014. We work with leaders in business, government, and civil society to address climate change, forest restoration, forest governance, and access to information. Learn more about our work in Indonesia, including our Forests and Landscapes in Indonesia, Governance of Forests Initiative, and Access Initiative projects.
Indonesia’s forest moratorium, a policy aiming to protect an area the size of Japan from development, represents one of the most ambitious conservation schemes ever established in the country. But is it actually making progress in improving the forest sector?
WRI’s new working paper, Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium: Impacts and Next Steps, aims to answer that question and more.
Impacts and Next Steps
The authors identify opportunities for progress with the recently extended Indonesian forest moratorium, a policy aiming to protect an area the size of Japan from development.
Palm oil is Indonesia’s top exported commodity and has become a key economic drivers for the country. However, it has also been often associated with the loss of Indonesia's valuable forests.
Forest fires ran rampant across Indonesia in the summer of 2013, spreading a toxic haze across South East Asia. Governments and NGOs are using WRI’s data and analysis to hold palm oil and timber companies accountable for these damaging forest and peat fires.
Burning forest is illegal in Indonesia. Yet June 2013 was one of the worst months for Indonesia’s fires in more than a decade, spreading an enormous cloud of haze and unhealthy pollution across the country and into Malaysia and Singapore. However, the governments of South East Asia didn’t have access to the same forest data, making it difficult to know where the fires were located and who might be responsible.
Using data from NASA and the Indonesian government, WRI was able to show within a few hours that half of the fires were within the boundaries of timber plantations and oil palm concessions. We leveraged our deep expertise on Indonesian forest and land issues, strong data analysis, and communications expertise to frame the issues around the fires and encourage governments to hold specific companies accountable. Our experts provided in-depth background information, clarified the facts where possible, and offered ongoing insights to media, resulting in coverage in more than 200 local and international outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe, and Straits Times. The fires analysis became the most viewed blog series in WRI history, with more than 27,000 page views. This significant media outreach and attention improved the understanding of the crisis internationally, and helped build momentum to solve the problem.
The Indonesian and Singaporean governments have stated at the highest levels that they will prosecute major companies accused of setting illegal fires to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Crucially, the governments of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand agreed at an ASEAN international summit to establish a joint platform for monitoring fires using satellite technology. They will also share company concession data among governments in order to hold companies accountable when fires are detected on their land. Improved data availability, law enforcement, and government cooperation could dramatically reduce the occurrence of forest and peat land fires in Indonesia, enhancing local communities’ health and the economy.
Moving forward, WRI will use Global Forest Watch, a soon-to-be-launched forest monitoring system, to push for strong natural resource management on a worldwide scale.
The world’s forests and the people who depend on them face a host of challenges—including deforestation, rural poverty, and degradation of critical ecosystem services. These negative outcomes are often exacerbated by weak forest governance, including low levels of transparency and participation in forest decision-making and as well as poor oversight of forest activities. To tackle these issues, decision-makers need better information about the institutional, political, and social factors that drive governance failures.
An updated tool from WRI’s Governance of Forests Initiative aims to help policy-makers, civil society organizations, and other forest stakeholders evaluate governance of their countries’ forests. Assessing Forest Governance: The Governance of Forests Initiative Indicator Framework updates the original GFI indicators, which were published in 2009 and piloted by WRI’s civil society partners in Brazil, Cameroon, and Indonesia. Using the indicators, stakeholders can identify strengths and weaknesses in forest governance and develop reforms that benefit both people and planet.