Indonesia Declares Partial Halt to Deforestation; Will Obama Help?

by Rolf Skar

May 27, 2010

Our campaign to achieve zero deforestation in the Paradise Forests continues to gain momentum.  After moving Nestle to cut deforestation out of its supply chain in just eight weeks, we are pleased to see movement on the political front as well.  This morning, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a two-year moratorium on new forest and peatland destruction.  The commitment came in advance of the governments of Indonesia and Norway signing a $1 billion deal in Oslo to develop capacity to implement strategies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

Paradise Forest islandsThis is the first major international support for a REDD deal since the disappointing UN climate talks in Copenhagen last December.  And its big news for the climate since Indonesia is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas polluter after the U.S. and China because of the destruction of its rainforests and peatlands.  Expectations are now rising for President Obama to build on the announcement made by Indonesia and Norway.

How does REDD work?  While the details of REDD policies can be confusing, the basic idea is simple: industrialized nations pay developing nations to keep tropical forests standing in order to protect our climate and the diversity of life that benefits us all.

If the money is sufficient and used in the right way, it can drive systemic changes, help overcome corruption, and aid in the development of long-term solutions.  If the money is not well spent, or if inadequate safeguards for things like local communities, Indigenous peoples and wildlife are not in place, REDD schemes can subsidize business as usual and be little more than greenwash.

The announcement by the Indonesian President is good news, and we should be cautiously optimistic that this could be the start of new cooperation between governments to tackle rainforest destruction and climate pollution.  But, it is only a first step, and there are uncertainties and missing pieces left to deal with.

For example, the moratorium announcement does not deal with the vast areas already under concessions to companies like Sinar Mas and APRIL – it only applies to new concessions not yet granted.  That means we still need to pressure consumer companies and retailers to reject products linked to rainfoParadise Forest Destructionrests and peatland destruction.

Also, it is unclear when the moratorium actually takes effect.  If it starts in 2011, as stated in some press, it could spark a rush by forest-destroying companies to grab as many concessions as they can now.  This would be a terrible consequence from an announcement that is supposed to be good for forests.  If they are serious about slowing deforestation, the governments of Norway and Indonesia should make sure the moratorium is effective immediately.

In addition, we must remember that the Paradise Forests include important rainforests outside of Indonesia in places like Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and other nations not yet party to a deal like the one unveiled in Oslo today.

Another question is: will Obama step up to help Indonesia reach zero deforestation as quickly as possible?  If a small Scandinavian country of less than 5 million people can pledge $1 billion to save some of the world’s most important forests, what will the United States do?

That question will soon be answered.  President Obama is returning to Indonesia, a country he lived in for four years as a child, in mid-June.  Millions of acres of pristine rainforest have been slashed, burned, logged and destroyed since he was a boy.  Now that he is President, Obama has a unique opportunity to protect Indonesia’s remaining rainforests and peatlands.  Take action now encourage him to build on, and improve the first steps established by the Norwegian/Indonesian announcement.

For the forests,


Rolf Skar

By Rolf Skar

Rolf Skar is the Campaigns Director at Greenpeace USA. Since 2007, Rolf has contributed to international Greenpeace campaigns to stop deforestation in the Canadian boreal forest, the Paradise forests of Southeast Asia, and the Brazilian Amazon.

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