Victory - Indonesia's peat forest gains temporary protection

Feature story - 18 August, 2008
In a rare piece of good news for Indonesia's forest, a regional governor has announced an interim ban on deforestation in Riau, one of the areas currently worst affected by rapid deforestation. The ban, especially if made permanent, is also good news for the climate.

New palm oil plantation with forest it replaced in the background.

In 2007 we highlighted how Indonesia's forests are the fastest disappearing on Earth and how the subsequent burning of peatlands is releasing huge amounts of carbon. Now that work has paid off with the province of Riau pledging an interim halt the destruction of its forests - a move that will prevent billions of tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Indonesia's forests are being cleared for palm oil plantations, timber and paper products. Beneath much of this forest are thick layers of peat that lock up billions of tones of carbon. Once the forest is cleared the peat swamp is drained and often burned to make the soil more suitable for palm oil plantations. Burning of the forest and peat results in massive emissions of greenhouse gases, making Indonesia the world's third largest climate polluter.

Riau Province has huge areas of forest covered peatlands. It has been experiencing rapid clearance for palm oil plantations. In 2007, our forest defender camp helped expose this devastation. Now the Riau Governor has announced the temporary ban on deforestation, which will remain in place until a national law is agreed.

"The moratorium is an important first step and an opportunity for the local government, forest communities and other stakeholders to improve forest governance," said Arief Wicaksono, Greenpeace Southeast Asia's Political Advisor.

The move follows Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's pledge at the G-8 Summit in July to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation by 50 percent by 2009.

National ban needed now

However to ensure their G-8 pledge is more than just nice words, the Indonesian Government needs to quickly ban deforestation nationally.

"The Indonesian government should declare a national moratorium on forest conversion to bring a halt to the vicious cycle of peatland drainage, forest fires and resulting biodiversity loss due to forest destruction." said Zulfahmi, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest campaigner.

Rising global demand for palm oil is driving the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations. Several major multinational companies dominate the palm oil market.

Following our campaign in April, Unilever, the world's biggest user of palm oil announced its support for a moratorium on further deforestation for palm oil. Only decisive action from both the biggest users of palm oil and the Indonesian Government can halt the deforestation and cut Indonesia's massive annual emissions.

That's exactly what we are campaigning for now. A win would not only be massively significant for protecting what remains of Indonesia's diverse rainforest but also a vital step in tackling climate change.

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