Indonesian Rainforest Burns While Government Silent in Climate Talks

Feature story - June 15, 2009
Greenpeace slammed Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono for his lack of action on climate change. While the Indonesian delegation were silent at last week's climate talks in Bonn, Indonesian rainforests were burning, releasing millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, destroying habitats for endangered species like the orangutan and Sumatran tiger, and communities were clashing with companies over land disputes.

January 2009, Riau Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Suluk Bongkal community protest in district capital Bengkalis following violent police put down of their protest against land grabbing by Sinar Mas owned pulp and paper company

Damiri Lubis, victim of a land dispute in Rokan Hulu in the local hospital. On 28 May, a protest against the PT Sumatera Sylva Lestari (SSL) (part of APRIL) pulp and paper company over land tenure was brutally suppressed, resulting in the deaths of three villagers and many more injured, according to members of the community. Witnesses spoke of company security and local police using sticks impaled with nails against the protesters. The police are not investigating the fatalities, but have taken seven villagers into custody for chopping down an acacia tree. Meanwhile 70 community members are reportedly still in jail following land conflicts with another pulp giant Sinar Mas Group’s APP (Asian Pulp and Paper) at the end of 2008.

Fires being used to clear land in a palm oil plantation, which is illegal under Indonesian law. Many of the fires and incidents of community violence are in forest areas recently allocated for conversion by Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry in Sumatra’s Riau Province, largely on carbon-rich peatlands. In April this year, Greenpeace filed a request with Indonesia’s Corruption Commission (KPK) to investigate the release of the concessions in question.

APRIL pulp and paper company acacia plantation showing land clearing and destroyed forest in foreground. The concession is close to the Kampar Peninsula, a peatland forest area which holds one of the world's largest stores of carbon. Much of this area is under threat of destruction from pulp and paper and palm oil companies as it has recently allocated for conversion by Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry. In April this year, Greenpeace filed a request with Indonesia’s Corruption Commission (KPK) to investigate the release of the concessions in question.

Beautiful forest in Kampar Peninsula, a peatland forest area which holds one of the world's largest stores of carbon. Much of this area is under threat of destruction from pulp and paper and palm oil companies as it has recently allocated for conversion by Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry. In April this year, Greenpeace filed a request with Indonesia’s Corruption Commission (KPK) to investigate the release of the concessions in question.

On 28 May, a protest against the PT Sumatera Sylva Lestari (SSL) (part of APRIL) pulp and paper company over land tenure was brutally suppressed, resulting in the deaths of three villagers and many more injured, according to members of the community. Witnesses spoke of company security and local police using sticks impaled with nails against the protesters. The police are not investigating the fatalities, but have taken seven villagers into custody for chopping down an acacia tree. Meanwhile 70 community members are reportedly still in jail following land conflicts with another pulp giant Sinar Mas Group’s APP (Asian Pulp and Paper) at the end of 2008.

Fires being used to clear land in a palm oil plantation, which is illegal under Indonesian law. Many of the fires and incidents of community violence are in forest areas recently allocated for conversion by Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry in Sumatra’s Riau Province, largely on carbon-rich peatlands. In April this year, Greenpeace filed a request with Indonesia’s Corruption Commission (KPK) to investigate the release of the concessions in question.

Many of the fires and incidents of community violence are in forest areas recently allocated for conversion by Indonesia's Minister of Forestry in Sumatra's Riau Province, largely on carbon-rich peatlands. In April this year, Greenpeace filed a request with Indonesia's Corruption Commission (KPK) to investigate the release of the concessions in question. In response, lawyers representing Minister Kaban have demanded the withdrawal of the complaint and threatened Greenpeace with legal action.

"Rather than the Government acting decisively, we are seeing organisations like Greenpeace threatened with prosecution for calling for investigations and demanding answers, communities under attack and forests going up in smoke," said Bustar Maitar, Forest campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia.  "Forest fires are part of the vicious cycle of climate change. Not only do they fuel further climate change through releasing carbon into the atmosphere, but they in turn are becoming more prevalent as we see the climate changing."

Deforestaton is the largest contributor to Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions, which are the third highest globally. Under Indonesian law it is illegal to clear land using fire, yet NASA has recorded 2,643 fire hotspots so far this year in Riau alone. (1) Many of these forest fires are started illegally to clear rainforest for palm oil or pulp and paper plantations.  

"If the government doesn't stop deforestation now, further climate change will destroy agriculture and further impoverish the region's people," warned Blucher Doloksaribu, Head of Riau Geophysical, Climatology and Meteorology Board (BMKG).

On 28 May, a protest in Rokan Hulu district, Riau, against the APRIL pulp and paper company (RGM International Group) over land tenure was brutally suppressed, resulting in the deaths of three villagers and many more injured, according to members of the community. Witnesses spoke of company security and local police using sticks impaled with nails against the protesters. Meanwhile 70 community members are reportedly still in jail following land conflicts with another pulp giant Sinar Mas Group's APP (Asian Pulp and Paper) at the end of 2008.

"President Yudhoyono must act now, or he will be responsible for runaway climate change. Only declaring and implementing a moratorium on deforestation can give the space necessary to resolve the social and environmental crisis we are facing and build strong governance," said Maitar. "We also call on the EU and the US to take decisive action in cutting their own emissions and putting money on the table for a fund to halt deforestation at the critical Copenhagen climate talks in December this year.  We need immediate global action to address this global problem." 

Note: (1) NASA/University of Maryland, 2002. MODIS Hotspot / Active Fire Detections. Data set. MODIS Rapid Response Project, NASA/GSFC [producer], University of Maryland, Fire Information for Resource Management System [distributors]. Available on-line [http://maps.geog.umd.edu]

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