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Di awal Maret 2014, kebakaran hutan dan lahan gambut di provinsi Riau, Sumatera, Indonesia, melonjak hingga titik yang tidak pernah ditemukan sejak krisis kabut asap Asia Tenggara pada Juni 2013. Hampir 50.000 orang mengalami masalah pernapasan akibat kabut asap tersebut, menurut Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Indonesia. Citra-citra satelit dengan cukup dramatis menggambarkan banyaknya asap polutan yang dilepaskan ke atmosfer, yang juga berkontribusi kepada perubahan iklim.

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.

A new Science paper provides the first high-resolution, global picture of annual forest cover change over the period 2000 to 2012. Prior to this research, the world lacked up-to-date, globally consistent forest data-- most information about forests is years out-of-date by the time it finds its way into policymakers’ hands.

Three key findings emerge from the new maps–and they point to solutions policymakers can pursue now.

Forests are the life blood of Equatorial Guinea. They cover roughly 98 percent of the total national land area, providing services and sustenance to hundreds of thousands of Equatoguineans. But despite the critical role of forests, the country lacked a comprehensive information system to support monitoring and responsible management of these ecosystems.

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Indonesia has the world’s third-largest rainforest, which is a haven for biodiversity and an economic lifeline for many rural communities. However, Indonesian forests are in rapid decline and the country regularly tops deforestation hotspots lists. The key to protecting Indonesia’s forests remains reforming its massive forestry and agriculture sectors. By giving these industries the tools to produce commodities such as palm oil and wood pulp sustainably, Indonesia can increase agricultural production without contributing to deforestation.

WRI has produced a new issue brief to address this challenge, How to Change Legal Land Use Classifications to Support More Sustainable Palm Oil in Indonesia. This publication provides a “how-to guide” for companies to shift their palm oil operations from forested to degraded land, as well as recommendations on how Indonesian policymakers can make this process easier.

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