deforestation indonesia
Forest boundaries that have been cleared and will be cleared for oil palm plantations in the concession area of ​​PT Papua Agro Lestari, a subsidiary of Korindo Group, in Merauke Regency, Papua Province. Photo taken 2016. PHOTO/Documentation of Pusaka Foundation

Tug-of-war between Indonesia’s Commitments to Reducing Deforestation

“The lungs of the world” is a term that is often used when people talk about forests and their role in providing oxygen for living things. Indonesia also inherited one of these “lungs” with the third largest area of ​​tropical forest in the world, according to Greenpeace . Unfortunately, deforestation and forest fires still threaten the existence of forests. Indonesia has lost 9.7 million hectares of primary forest or about 36 percent of its forest cover. forest cover during the period 2002-2020, citing data from Global Forest Watch.The main cause of forest cover loss in Indonesia is deforestation.

Last year, investigations by Greenpeace International and Forensic Architecture revealed that Indonesian-Korean conglomerate Korindo had burned about 57,000 hectares of forest in Papua province since 2001. This damage is almost the size of Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

In fact, stopping deforestation is important to absorb carbon emissions that cause climate change. Recent research published in Nature Climate Change cited by the World Resources Institute found that the world’s forests absorb about twice as much carbon dioxide as they emitted between 2001 and 2019. In other words, forests provide a carbon sink that could absorb about 7.6 billion metric tons of CO2 annually, 1.5 more carbon than the United States produces annually.

The role of forests will also be increasingly important considering Indonesia’s target of achieving net zero emissions by 2060 or earlier. Net zero emissions generally refer to the absorption of all human-produced emissions, so that nothing evaporates into the atmosphere. This is important to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In the midst of similar deforestation, President Joko Widodo actually claimed that “the rate of deforestation fell significantly to the lowest in the last 20 years” in his speech at the Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021.

So what is the actual condition of deforestation in Indonesia? What are the latest commitments at COP26 and the Indonesian government’s climate action? Then, what steps need to be taken to ensure that forest protection and development in Indonesia can run in balance?

Deforestation Declining?

Jokowi’s claim is true if you look at the period 1990-2020 for the net deforestation trend, namely the area of ​​deforestation minus the area of ​​reforestation. Reforestation is a change from what was once a forest to deforested, then to a forest again. Citing the 2019-2020 Indonesian Deforestation report by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK), net deforestation in Indonesia reached 115,460 thousand hectares in the 2019-2020 period, the lowest since 1990 or the last 30 years.

In his speech at the World Leaders’ Summit On Forest And Land Use on November 2, 2021, Jokowi claimed that this achievement occurred at a time when the world last year lost 12 percent more primary forest than the previous year.

“This success was achieved because Indonesia places climate action in the context of sustainable development,” said Jokowi.

Although it is decreasing, it should be noted that the deforestation rate since the period 2011-2017 is the result of calculating net deforestation, while the calculation in the previous period still uses gross deforestation (without reforestation). Calculation of net deforestation by 2019 and 2020, for example, based on deforestation gross amounted to 119.0 thousand hectares reduced by reforestation amounting to 3.6 thousand hectares.

In addition, this deforestation rate can be said to be still relatively large. In comparison, the deforestation area of ​​about 115.46,000 hectares during 2019 and 2020 is almost as large as the state of Los Angeles in the United States (US) and slightly larger than Hong Kong.

Globally, Global Forest Watch data shows that Indonesia ranks fifth in the amount of forest cover lost during 2001-2020, which is 27.7 mega hectares or equivalent to 27.7 million hectares, provided that this estimate does not include reforestation.

This number is smaller than Brazil, the home country of the Amazon rainforest which is the world’s largest rainforest, but larger than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, host to the Congo Basin with the world’s second largest rainforest.

On the other hand, Indonesia also ranks fifth for forest reforestation during the 2001-2012 period, amounting to 5.95 million mega hectares, citing the same data .

Covert Deforestation?

Despite declining deforestation, the analysis of the non-profit environmental organization Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI) [Translation – State Audit Board] on Jokowi’s speech received by Tirto on November 4, 2021 showed that “covert” deforestation, which was carried out through borrow-to-use forest area permits, actually increased in 2004-2014 compared to previous periods, although it decreased again in 2014-2020. The release of forest areas was still happening, even during the forest moratorium period.

The moratorium on new permits for natural forests Primary and peatland soils were introduced in 2011 under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia . The moratorium ended in July 2019 and President Jokowi decided to make the moratorium permanent in August 2019.

The WALHI document also refers to the audit data of the State Audit Board in 2019. This data shows that there are around 2.75 million hectares of oil palm in forest areas illegally in 6 provinces. The government also gave 3 years to “complement the progress of the oil palm plantation”.

The term “advancement” refers to the LHK minister’s explanation on October 7, 2020, 2 days after the Omnibus Law on Job Creation was agreed at the DPR, WALHI said.

“Ironically, during Jokowi’s presidency, there was actually a ‘whitewash of corporate crime’ in the name of keterlanjuran,” the document reads. Keterlanjuran is an Indonesian word that describes when something is already done or too late to be acted upon. 

Greenpeace Indonesia also responded to the speech’s claims through articles by saying that deforestation in Indonesia actually increased from the previous 2.45 million hectares during 2003-2011 to 4.8 million hectares during 2011-2019.

“The trend of decreasing deforestation in the 2019-2021 range cannot be separated from the socio-political situation and the pandemic that occurred in Indonesia so that land clearing activities were hampered,” said Greenpeace Indonesia in the same article.

Greenpeace believes that as long as the remaining natural forest is left in the concession, future deforestation will remain high. Citing data from Global Forest Watch, Greenpeace said that deforestation covered nearly 1.69 million hectares of industrial forest plantation concessions (HTI) and 2.77 million hectares of oil palm plantations from 2002-2019.

Future deforestation will increase as the government runs the food estate project, according to Greenpeace Indonesia. Quoting the Indonesian Information Portal , food estate is a food development concept that is carried out in an integrated manner which includes agriculture, plantations, and livestock in an area.

“There will be millions of hectares of natural forest that will be lost to the development of this food industrialization,” said the article.

Indonesia & Global Climate Action

Responding to the issue of deforestation, Indonesia became one of 137 countries that signed the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use on 2 November 2021. By signing this declaration, signatory countries pledged toto “halt and reverse” the rate of deforestation by the end of 2030.

“At yesterday’s summit, I said that the forest and land sector in Indonesia will reach a net carbon sink by 2030. This is Indonesia’s commitment to be part of the solution,” Jokowi said in his speech. World Leaders’ Summit On Forest And Land Use on November 2, 2021. The net carbon sink in question is the target for the Net Forest and Land Use (FoLU) Sink 2030. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry stated in a press release that the FoLU Net-Sink 2030 describes conditions the absorption rate is already balanced or even higher than the sector’s emission level in the forestry sector in 2030.

Jokowi also mentioned various forest protection efforts, such as the Social Forestry program which aims to ensure forest conservation is accompanied by the livelihoods of surrounding communities. Indonesia is also restoring mangrove forests which play a role in absorbing and storing carbon.

The government has also developed funding sources by establishing the Environmental Fund Management Agency, issuing green bonds and sukuk, and developing the Carbon Economic Value mechanism, Jokowi explained. He considered that this carbon mechanism is an incentive for the private sector to reduce emissions.

“For Indonesia, with or without support, we will continue to move forward,” said Jokowi. From the perspective of global climate action, he calls for attention that includes all types of forest ecosystems. He also stressed that certification must be fair, multilaterally recognized, include sustainable development goals (SDGs), and be accompanied by incentives for sustainable forest management.

Jokowi also mentioned funding and technology support for developing countries. According to Jokowi, providing assistance does not mean that it can dictate or violate a country’s sovereign rights over its territory, but must be based on the real needs of developing countries that own forests. However, Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya emphasized that FoLU Net-Sink 2030 cannot be equated with zero deforestation, citing thread on its official Twitter account on November 3, 2021, a day after Indonesia signed a declaration on deforestation.

“The massive development of President Jokowi’s era must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or in the name of deforestation,” one Siti tweeted in the thread.

The reason is, she claims that stopping development in the name of zero deforestation is the same as going against the mandate of the 1945 Constitution regarding the determination of values ​​and goals in building national goals for the welfare of the people socially and economically.

She gave an example that there are roads that are cut off in Kalimantan and Sumatra because these roads must pass through forest areas. Meanwhile, there are more than 34 thousand villages located in the forest area and its surroundings. This means that communities must remain isolated if there is no deforestation.

“Forcing Indonesia to zero deforestationin 2030, is clearly inappropriate and unfair. Because every country has its own key issues and is covered by the Basic Law to protect its people,” said Siti.

Continuing the COP26 Commitment?

In the midst of Siti’s statement regarding zero deforestation, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist Herry Purnomo told Tirto , Thursday (11/11/2021) that it is necessary to agree on what is meant by zero deforestation. According to Herry, zero deforestation is net deforestation.

Herry explained, net deforestation is the amount deforested, afforestation (change from non-forest to forest) and reforestation. That is, if these three things are added together, it must be equal to zero in 2030.

Herry also proposed to the government to set a net zero deforestation target by 2030 in every province and district. In addition, the government should provide fiscal incentives to the regions, according to their respective characteristics. Incentives in Sumatra and Java, for example, are for reforestation and afforestation, while incentives in Kalimantan and Papua are for reducing deforestation, explained Herry.

“I am pretty sure that by 2030, Sumatra will be reforested through restoration of peat and mangrove ecosystems. Afforestation will occur in Java. I hope Papua will have less deforestation through many local initiatives such as the Manokwari Declaration. Kalimantan will still find it difficult to achieve zero deforestation in 2030, but it will be reduced with a lot of commitments from local governments,” explained Herry.

He also encouraged the government to increase the participation of the public and the private sector. According to his research in South Sumatra, Herry said that the private sector can significantly reduce its deforestation through various certification schemes. In addition, Herry also invites the government to continue to increase the role of critical academics and non-governmental organizations so that zero deforestation gets broad support from the community.

This story was originally published on, with the support of Climate Tracker.

Made Anthony Iswara
Made is a data journalist who strives to integrate research, communication and development economics to advocate policies. He has won 5 journalism awards and is among the five winners that won Best Article for the 2020 EU4Wartawan Competition organized by the European Union.