Indonesia’s environment ministry will file civil lawsuits against five companies in connection with fires that razed their concessions last year. Fire season in 2019 burned an area half the size of Belgium and released double the amount of carbon dioxide as the fires in the Amazon. Officials say they are preparing both civil lawsuits — seeking fines against the pulpwood and oil palm firms blamed for the fires — and criminal charges. However, a spate of recent cases suggests the government will have a hard time getting the money, with only a tiny fraction paid out of the $231 million awarded from nine companies in similar lawsuits.
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Indonesia is facing its worst annual fire season since the tragedy of 2015. Close to 700 hotspots have been identified in fire-prone regions in Sumatra, Kalimantan and the Riau islands.
Fires are raging at a record rate in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and scientists warn that it could strike a devastating blow to the fight against climate change. According to INPE, more than 1½ soccer fields of Amazon rainforest are being destroyed every minute of every day and the fires are burning at the highest rate. Environmental activists and organisations accuse Brazil's president -Jair Bolsonaro of relaxing environmental controls in the country and encouraging deforestation.
One subsidiary of Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (April), Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (Rapp), has constructed a 3km canal through thick peatland on the island of Pedang, Indonesia, which has led to the suspension of their partnership with WWF and Greenpeace. The canal is built for draining peatland for pulp plantations, which is against both the company’s sustainability standards, and also government regulations. However, the president and director of Rapp insisted the action is legal based on a plan approved by the Indonesian government back in 2013, which was before the catastrophic fires of 2015.
President of Indonesia signed into law on Dec. 1, a new crucial regulation on peatland management, intending to call time on untrammelled commercial development of the archipelago’s vast peat swamp zones, which have been widely drained and dried by the palm oil and paper industries. The new regulation was praised by some observers as previously peatland development was only mandated by presidential guidelines. However, environmental pressure groups said that the new regulation may continue to trigger fires and the collapse of peat ecosystems. Greenpeace and Wetlands International say the government has not done enough to move on from destructive land use.
Researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities in the US estimated there were more than 90,000 early deaths in Indonesia in areas closest to haze-belching fires, and several thousand more in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. The new estimate, reached using a complex analytical model by combining satellite data with models of health impacts from smoke exposure and readings from pollution monitoring stations, is far higher than the previous official death toll given by authorities of just 19 deaths in Indonesia. It triggered calls for action to tackle the “killer haze”.
Indonesia’s anti-graft commission said government agencies have agreed on a plan to combat corruption in the forestry industry that costs the state billions of dollars in lost revenue and is behind fires that pollute Southeast Asia. The plan leans heavily on technology to build an accurate picture of where illegal deforestation and conversion of peatland into farmland is occurring, using Landsat satellites, drones and LIDAR pulsed laser-based mapping.
According to the World Bank, forest fires in Indonesia last year caused the country at least $16 billion economic losses, which is equivalent to 1.9 percent of its GDP. The haze caused by the fire blanketed Singapore, parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in September and October, which was cleared by the rainy season in early November. Many of the fires were set by smallholders and companies to clear land for agriculture, especially palm oil, which makes it difficult for Indonesian authorities to respond to the fires.
Regarding the choking haze in Indonesia, 23 companies have been punished by Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, while over 33 plantation companies are being investigated. The Singaporean government said it plans to take action against firms linked to haze-causing fires.
Singapore’s National Environment Agency served Asia Pulp & Paper and four other companies with legal notice under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, because fires burning in the companies’ concessions in Indonesia. The air pollutant index in Singapore hit “hazardous” levels last week, and schools shut down. The haze even is harming relations between the two countries, with Singapore and also Malaysia.
Many Southeast Asians are wondering if they will have to withstand another blanket of haze from rainforest fires as Indonesia enters its annual dry season.
Drones are increasingly being used in the fight against deforestation and illegal land clearing in some counties, including Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil trader Cargill has begun using drones to monitor fires near to its plantations and plan to use drones to identify protected forests. It is thought that local law enforcement agencies in Indonesia might also turn to drones as they currently rely on satellite imagery to identify hotspots but can often encounter delays in receiving information and poor resolution of images.
It’s been a year since Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd (APRIL) released its latest ‘Sustainable Forest Management Plan’. APRIL claims to have an ‘ongoing commitment to conservation and a sustainable approach to landscape development.’ But it plans to continue clearing forests until 2020. It also refuses to stop draining peatlands - even though doing so wrecks the climate, and leads to forest fires and floods. Over the past year, Greenpeace researchers have been monitoring APRIL’s operations on Padang Island, off the coast of Sumatra. The photos they took show what APRIL’s real objective is to clear as much of Indonesia's rainforest as it can get away with before it is forced to stop.
New research due to be published in the journal ‘Global Change Biology’ has revealed that the amount of carbon lost from tropical forests is being significantly underestimated. The degradation of tropical forests by selective logging and fires causes large amounts of ‘hidden’ emissions. Degradation is a slow moving process and hard to measure, adding to the fact that it is underestimated. This new study attempts to overcome these limitations by using on-the-ground assessments.
Indonesian civil society groups have called on their government to reform its legal timber certification system, pointing to widespread illegal practices among certified companies and an auditing system that is “almost impossible” for companies to fail. The Anti Forest-Mafia Coalition, a group of Indonesian NGOs, has published a 63-page assessment of SVLK which finds that SVLK-certified companies had illegally cleared natural forests inside the habitats of protected species, in deep peat areas, and in forests zoned for conservation, and had intentionally started fires in some cases while in others their certificates were linked to officials sentenced for corrupt practices in issuing licences. The report also criticises SVLK’s failure to address human rights concerns such as land tenure issues and the fact that certified mills are not required to source timber exclusively from SVLK-certified timber concessions.
In response to the dramatic decline of forest cover in West Africa, 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed to work together across borders to protect and manage the region’s forests and wildlife. The Convergence Plan for the Sustainable Management and use of Forest Ecosystems in West Africa was adopted alongside the Sub-regional Action Program to Combat Desertification at a meeting on 12 September 2013.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Global Forest Assessment 2010 reported that 870,000 ha of forests were lost in the sub-region each year between 2000 and 2010. The convergence plan notes that these losses were due primarily to illegal cutting, brush fires, extensive agriculture (farming over large areas of land with low productivity) and transhumance (moving livestock from one grazing area to another), as well as legal, political, technical and economic limitations.
Jakarta, 3 September 2013 - The palm oil sector was the single largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia between 2009-2011, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s forest loss, revealed Greenpeace International in new mapping analysis published today. The analysis shows that significant deforestation took place in concessions currently owned by members of the palm oil industry’s largest sustainability organisation, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, including companies such as Singapore-based Wilmar International. More damning is the revelation that RSPO concessions accounted for 39% of the fire hotspots on palm oil concessions in Riau during January-June 2013.
"The RSPO wants its members to be industry leaders in sustainability, but its current standards leave them free to destroy forests and drain peatland. Year after year, Indonesia's forest fires and haze wreak havoc on the region, and the palm oil sector is a main culprit. While RSPO members might have no-fire policies, the peatland they have cleared and drained is like a tinderbox – one spark is all it takes," said Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace International’s Indonesia Forest Campaign.
The Indonesian Forest Ministry has defended the new Law on Preventing and Eradicating Forest Destruction which passed early in July. Critics point out that the new law does not mention forest fires, cuts the prescribed punishments for certain forestry crimes, and excludes mention of the protection of indigenous groups with ancestral claims and the regulation of forest boundaries. In response, proponents of the law say that it will target large-scale operators and bureaucrats who fail to uphold the law, in addition to introducing harsher deterrence methods and allowing for better coordination between law enforcement agencies.
The Russian government has committed up to $12.4 billion over the next eight years to be spent on forestry protection. This will include restoration and improvement of species composition in forests, reducing illegal logging and addressing the black market in timber, improving aerial monitoring, cultivating trees for restoration and creating fire ponds to protect against wildfires. In response to the announcement of the policy, the CEO of the forestry company RusForest called for privatisation of the country’s forest, saying that this would incentivise longer term investment in the management of Russia’s forests. The current model is for companies such as RusForest to manage areas of forest on relatively short-term leases from the government. Russia currently imports more paper than it produces despite having around 700 million hectares of forest.
The Viet Nam Administration of Forestry announced that over 13,700 violations of forest protection and timber management laws were reported in the first six months of 2012. Around 623ha of forest land have been lost in this period as a result of changes in forest use purposes, illegal logging and forest fires. Government ministries working on the issue aim to tighten controls on the wood processing industry and local authorities have been ordered to review existing forestry projects and ensure that forest protection programmes are adequately funded.