People in Indonesia, Singapore, and parts of Malaysia are currently suffering from debilitating levels of haze resulting from forest fires. Air quality levels in Singapore have deteriorated to the worst levels ever recorded on the island, while local airports in Indonesia and some schools in Malaysia have had to close. Almost all of the recent fires (June 12-20) have occurred in Sumatra, an island in western Indonesia.
While there’s been heated debate on the location, cause, and nature of the fires, WRI has compiled some initial data that reveals that there are some patterns. Relatively few fires have occurred in protected areas and selective logging concessions. Furthermore, half of the fires are burning on timber and oil palm plantations. Although it is illegal for companies in Indonesia to start forest or land fires, several companies have used fires for land clearing in the past. It will be important to gather more detailed information about the exact location of the fires and their causes, which could have important implications for the companies and government agencies involved.
A Look Inside the Forest Fire Data
WRI gathered information from NASA’s Active Fire Data, which uses satellite data to pinpoint the location of fires in near real time, together with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s concession maps for oil palm, logging concessions, and timber plantation licenses. We counted the number of NASA fire alerts in each concession in Indonesia and tabulated the results.
This was a bold decision by a leader known for his commitment to sustainability. Extending the moratorium is a victory for the Indonesian people, business, and the planet.
The moratorium will directly benefit more than 80 million Indonesians who rely on forests for their livelihood. Many of these people are extremely poor and have struggled to gain recognition for their land rights. Extending the moratorium provides an opportunity to address these crucial issues.
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.
Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.
Boosting Achievements from Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium
Indonesia ranks as one of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely due to the clearing of forest and peat lands. The forest moratorium aims to address this problem by prohibiting the award of new licenses to clear or convert primary natural forests and peat lands to agriculture or other uses. This will encompass an area of over 43 million hectares of land. Forest users with existing licenses are still allowed to operate in these regions, and there are several exceptions to the rule.
As the old adage suggests, it is important to see the forests for more than just the trees. While an estimated 500 million people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, the entire world depends on them for food, water, clean air, and vital medicines. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them critical to curbing climate change.
Despite some encouraging anti-deforestation efforts in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and Africa, globally, forests are under threat, particularly in the tropics. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13 million hectares of forests were lost every year. About 30 percent of the global forest cover has been completely cleared, and 20 percent has been degraded.
This dilemma begs the question: What is the outlook for forests in 2030? Are we missing the opportunity to preserve forests and ensure they continue to deliver the goods and services we need for a growing global population? How can we use forests to build a thriving global green economy?
Asking these questions is important. Finding answers to the challenges they raise is imperative.
Forests are vitally important for the global environment, economy, and population. The forest sector employs 13.7 million workers and contributes to about 1 percent of the global GDP. Plus, an estimated 500 million people around the world directly depend on forests for their livelihoods.
But forests are also under threat. From 2000-2010, about 15 million hectares of the world’s forests were cleared, and a 2004 assessment estimated that 8-10 percent of the global wood trade is of illegal origin. In addition to deforestation, illegal logging can cause government revenue losses, poverty, unfair competition with legally sourced goods, unplanned and uncontrolled forest management, conflicts, and other illicit activities that can occur in instances where illegal logging’s proceeds are linked to organized crime and corruption.
But there are solutions. One way to improve forest management across the globe is for businesses, governments, and citizens to seek out and demand sustainably harvested wood and paper products.
African farmers currently face a crisis. Droughts and unpredictable weather, in combination with decreasing soil fertility and pests, have caused crop failure on many of the continent’s drylands.
But there are solutions—namely, low-cost farmer innovations. Chris Reij, a Sustainable Land Management Specialist with Free University Amsterdam and a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, is leading the charge in this area. Reij facilitates the “African Re-greening Initiatives,” a movement that supports collaboration among partners working at the local level to help African farmers adapt to climate change and develop productive, sustainable farming systems.
Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.
People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).
When it comes to the fate of forests, Rio+20 and the official negotiations risk becoming a side event. Instead, the main show is playing out in countless boardrooms, communities, parliaments, and villages around the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Canada to Cambodia, these organizations have made dramatic progress with efforts to reverse forest decline.
Of course, much remains to be done: globally, forests continue to decline at the rate of about 13 million hectares each year, according to the United Nations. But many successes help illuminate a path forward.
This piece was written with Vinod Thomas, Director General, Independent Evaluation, Asian Development Bank. It originally appeared in The Guardian.
As we enter a new year, the world continues to be in the grips of dual crises. A stubborn economic downturn with widespread job losses combined with accelerating global warming threatening vulnerable communities. Many argue that dealing with climate change in the midst of an economic slump will hurt recovery efforts. The underlying reality, however, is quite the opposite. Not only can preparing for climate change offer opportunities for economic growth, it would be unwise to pursue one without the other.
Can the current food production system feed a growing population in a changing climate while sustaining ecosystems? The answer is an emphatic “no.”
A new approach is imperative and overdue, one in which the world feeds more people—an estimated 9 billion by 2050—with less ecological impact. To be successful, this new approach must address both how we produce and how we use food.