- Indonesia contains the world’s third largest swath of rainforest, but the country’s forested areas have been declining sharply each year.
- Alongside the usual causes, fire has also become a significant driver of deforestation: since 2001, fires have accounted for 10% of forest loss, and this trend is currently intensifying amid the El Niño weather phenomenon, which brings drier conditions.
- “Promoting and supporting agroforestry, alongside other sustainable land use practices, can be a powerful step toward preserving Indonesia’s forests, mitigating climate change, and safeguarding the well-being of both local communities and the global environment,” a new op-ed via the country’s Ministry of Finance argues.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
With an area covering 125.76 million hectares, Indonesia’s forests, which are home to 17% of the global wildlife population, constitute the world’s third largest rainforest ecosystem and hold the key to global climate sustainability. Unfortunately, the extent of Indonesia’s forested areas has been declining sharply each year.
Since 2000, Indonesia has lost 18.4% of its forested area, totaling 29.4 million hectares. In 1990, forested areas encompassed 65.4% of its archipelagic land. Three decades later, in 2022, forest coverage has dwindled to just 49.1% of the total land area.
Fires have become a significant threat to Indonesia’s biodiverse forests. Since 2001, fires have accounted for one-tenth of the forest loss. Recently, since August 30th, a severe fire struck the Mount Bromo National Park, consuming at least 274 hectares of land in Indonesia’s most visited mountain. This incident adds to the growing list of fire events that have scorched more than 2.87 million hectares of national forests over the past 20 years.
Back in 2019, Indonesia experienced its worst fire outbreak since 2015, which devastated an area of 3.1 million hectares. Covering an area larger than Belgium, the estimated total losses reached $5.2 billion (Rp79.6 trillion), with 900,000 people suffering from respiratory problems due to the smoke.
Forest fires are indeed a common occurrence in Indonesia, especially during the dry season. However, nearly 99% of these fires are caused by human activities, according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Deforestation and the conversion of forested land are among the primary reasons behind these incidents. These unilateral actions result in shared losses, affecting not only local communities but also the national and global ecosystems.
Local populations experience the most serious consequences of deforestation. Indigenous communities, who have been some of the best forest guardians, continue to lose their homes. This poses a significant challenge to many traditional societies whose livelihoods and cultures are deeply connected to the forest. When severe fires struck Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2019, a total of 160 Indigenous people lost their homes, and two lives were lost.
The loss of forested areas also exacerbates the frequency and intensity of natural disasters in Indonesia. Ecosystem disruptions contribute to flash floods, landslides, and droughts. In January 2021, 11 out of 13 cities and regencies in South Kalimantan were hit by floods and landslides. This disaster claimed 46 lives and submerged 123,000 homes, making it the worst in the region in the past decade. The loss of forested land due to mining and palm oil plantation expansion has been identified as one of the main causes.
Forest fires also hinder Indonesia’s effort to mitigate the global warming crisis. In Indonesia, forest fires have contributed to at least 28.6% of emissions levels throughout 2022. Without follow-up actions, this could pose a significant obstacle to achieving the nation’s target of net carbon absorption by 2060.
Given the substantial role that forests play in Indonesia’s and the world’s ecosystems, their preservation is a shared responsibility. This responsibility requires the participation of communities, national policies, and international cooperation.
One effective approach is through agroforestry practices. This practice not only reduces deforestation but also ensures food security for millions of people in Indonesia. Unfortunately, clear policies to support these methods are still lacking.
Promoting and supporting agroforestry, alongside other sustainable land use practices, can be a powerful step toward preserving Indonesia’s forests, mitigating climate change, and safeguarding the well-being of both local communities and the global environment. Collaboration between stakeholders at all levels, from local communities to international organizations, is essential to address the complex challenges associated with deforestation and forest conservation.
Indonesia indeed requires policies that build awareness and understanding among local farmers to encourage a transition from monoculture farming to agroforestry. Subsidy policies can be another way to provide incentives for farmers to adopt sustainable practices.
On the other hand, in 2011, Indonesia implemented a forest permit moratorium policy as an effort to conserve the remaining forested areas. However, this policy, currently regulated only through presidential instructions, needs to be strengthened with more binding legislation. Furthermore, the moratorium currently applies only to primary forest areas and peatlands. Its coverage should ideally be expanded to include secondary forests, which still cover 35 million hectares.
Additionally, the absence of a specific global agreement governing forest conservation remains a challenge. While international conventions such as the Paris Agreement and the Rio Convention have recognized the importance of forest sustainability, they do not establish a framework of accountability for its preservation. An international agreement is crucial to provide a framework of obligations for the Indonesian government to collaborate with other nations and multinational organizations in forest management.
This way, Indonesia’s forests, which have been home to local cultures and livelihoods for centuries, can continue to exist and contribute to maintaining global climate balance.
Andrean Rifaldo is an Administrator of Risk and Performance at the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia.
Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: To understand what is being done to restore Indonesian peatlands and protect them from fires, we interviewed the Deputy Head of the National Peatland Restoration Agency, Budi Wardhana, and Dyah Puspitaloka, a researcher on the value chain, finance and investment team at CIFOR, listen here:
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