Thursday, June 08, 2017

Indonesia’s plantation lobby challenges environmental law


Palm oil and paper lobby groups have asked Indonesia’s highest court to strike down rules holding plantation firms strictly liable for fires that occur on their land, according an article pubblished on Mongabay. The groups have also asked the Constitutional Court to eliminate a regulation letting small farmers practice slash-and-burn techniques, the cheapest land-clearing method and a mainstay of indigenous cultures in the Muslim-majority archipelago nation. 

The judicial review, filed last month by the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) and the Indonesian Association of Forestry Concessionaires (APHI), has prompted a backlash from critics who say it threatens the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights.

It comes amid a larger debate over who bears responsibility for the devastating fires that burn annually across Indonesia’s vast peat swamp zones, which have been widely drained and dried by oil palm and timber growers — and rendered highly flammable. The great fires of 2015 burned an area the size of Vermont, blanketed Southeast Asia in haze and sickened half a million people.

Companies like Asia Pulp & Paper — which saw more than a third of its land in South Sumatra burn in 2015 — often blame local communities for the fires which they claim spread in from outside or were started by trespassers in the huge, difficult-to-manage concessions. Critics point to the fact that Indonesia’s peatland drainage, the underlying cause of the fires, is largely the work of big corporations.

GAPKI and APHI are targeting three articles in the 2009 Environmental Law and one in the 1999 Forestry Law.

Some of the articles require firms to prevent and fight fires in their concessions. They have been used to sue and press charges against companies for such fires regardless of whether their negligence can be shown to have caused the burning, with such evidence difficult to produce. Judges’ interpretations of the rules have varied.

“Our plea is that our clients should be responsible only for their negligence, otherwise they must not be held accountable,” Refly Harun, who represents the associations, said in Jakarta on May 29.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry is working with the House of Representatives to prepare a defense against the lawsuit. The minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, described it as a setback in the government’s efforts to protect nature.

The article stipulating “strict liability,” she argued, was in line with an article in the Constitution on environment protection and sustainability.

“It would be strange for Indonesia to scrap the article on strict liability,” she said, “because the concept is used the world over — strict liability is universal.”

Indonesian law bans the use of fire to clear land for all except the smallest farmers. The Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) says communities have practiced such techniques responsibly for centuries.

“Banning traditional land clearing poses a very dangerous threat to indigenous peoples whose lives depend on agriculture,” Rukka Sombolinggi, AMAN’s secretary general, said in an interview. She characterized the lawsuit as an attempt to scapegoat indigenous groups for problems they didn’t cause.

In some cases, the exception is abused. A report by the Center for International Forestry Research, a thinktank headquartered outside Jakarta, described how local elites organize farmers to burn land for sale to a variety of large and small buyers.

The lawsuit might not represent all members of the associations, but only some currently under legal scrutiny in wildfire cases, said Henri Subagyo, executive director of the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL).

“If these troubled companies are looking for fairness, then they should come out and present their case so that it’s clear what is what,” he said. “But don’t hide behind the associations.”

He called strict liability the soul of the 2009 Environment Law. “If the Constitutional Court grants the judicial review, it will instead violate our constitution which stipulates environmental protection and sustainability.”

AMAN, ICEL and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) will submit an advisory letter to defend the contested regulations to the court on Thursday morning, according to WALHI Executive Director Nur Hidayati.

“Our move is to involve ourselves in the legal process as parties that are directly affected by the regulations, and this is our right that’s stipulated in the Constitutional Court Law,” she told reporters in Jakarta this week.

“We want to present our facts before the judges and clear up any misunderstanding of the regulations, but ultimately, our goal is for the court to reject the judicial review.”

A similar action is being taken separately by other environmental and rights groups, namely Sawit Watch, the Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice (IHCS), the Oil Palm Smallholders Union (SPKS) and Gadjah Mada University’s anticorruption study center and environmental law department.

Inda Fatinaware, executive director of Sawit Watch, which monitors the palm oil industry, called on the court to continue to uphold its commitment to protect the environment and society instead of siding with corporate interests.

“The court’s judges have showcased good intentions in handling environmental issues and in defending these articles that are important to enforcing environmental law,” Fatinaware said.

The judges have ordered the plaintiffs to revise their original submission as it failed to clearly define their legal standing and conclude how the contested regulations cost them their constitutional rights.

“Since this was submitted on behalf of the associations, who has authorized this lawsuit to represent the associations? How are the associations [as an organization] directly suffering losses from these regulations?” said judge I Gede Palguna.

The associations are expected to submit the revision by 10am on Friday, after which the court will decide on a date for the first hearing. 

The rules in question are Article 49 of the 1999 Forestry Law; and Article 69 clauses 1 and 2, Article 88 and Article 99 of the 2009 Environment Law.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Pulp & paper industry: social impacts and little development

While RAN is voicing local communities affected by pulp & paper industry in Indonesia, the Environment and Forest Minister says that this industry gives a very marginal contribution to Indonesia’s GDP: less than 1%.  Ran published last week an online gallery of photos and quotes to amplify the voices of inspiring Indigenous and frontline leaders in Indonesia, affected by pulp and paper plantations. The goal of this vibrant site is to hold pulp and paper companies responsible to their policy promises by amplifying the voices of those on the frontlines. 

After years of campaigning, many corporations have committed to eliminate forest destruction and human rights abuses from their business. Despite these promises, hundreds of communities are still suffering the impacts of having their traditional forests and lands seized and cleared for industrial pulp plantations. Together, we demand more than paper promises. 

Across Indonesia and the world, frontline communities are still fighting to get their lands back, to have their forests protected, and to have their culture and rights respected. The images and interviews below are from the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, in the villages of Lubuk Mandarsah, Op. Bolus, and Aek Lung. These are only a subset of villages that have been negatively impacted by Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), APRIL, Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL), and other companies that have adopted strong policies that should—if properly implemented—protect communities and forests. 

About the impact of plantation industry, in a talk with, the Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya pointed out that 2015’s peat fires led to a decline in Indonesia’s economic growth that year. “Indonesia’s economic growth didn’t reach, let alone surpass, 5% in 2015. Instead, it hovered at around just 4.9%,” the minister said.

“The Minister of Industry, in his letter to me, wrote that palm oil accounts for 3% of Indonesian GDP. Of course, these are palm oil plantations in mineral soils and peatlands. This figure means that 97% of Indonesia’s GDP does not come from palm oil,” the Environment and Forestry Minister explained, adding that The minister added that the pulp & paper industry contributed less than 0.76% to Indonesia’s GDP in 2016.




According to the LiDAR mapping carried out by the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG), one of the pulpwood concessions belonging to PT RAPP, a subsidiary of pulp and paper giant APRIL, located on Pulau Padang in Sumatra’s Riau province, is largely composed of deep-lying peat.
LiDAR is a surveying method that measures peat deafness using pulsed laser light.
The results of the LiDAR mapping performed by the peat agency were also backed by the Indonesian Geospatial Information Agency (BIG), the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry, the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN), the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Public Works and Public Housing and Gajah Mada University.

“Major parts of the APRIL concession on Pulau Padang are situated in deep-lying peat, - Peat Agency Chief Nazir Foead told - "The majority of peat in the concession ranges from more than 5 meters up to 10 meters in depth,” 
In February this year, Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya signed the peatland ecosystem map, which classifies various peatland areas into protection and utilization zones. This map also indicates that the bulk of the APRIL concession on this small Sumatran island lies in a protection zone.

The ministry has imposed a tight schedule on almost one hundred pulpwood companies to revise their 10-year work plans by incorporating peatlands classified as protection zones into these revised work plans. Pulpwood companies under the control of the APRIL group are no exception in this regard.

Last year, PT RAPP was declared by Indonesian authorities to be involved in a series of peat violations after a ban on any new peat development was issued by the Indonesian government in early November 2015.

This first of these peat violations was uncovered by a surprise inspection of the APRIL concession by the Peat Agency Chief Nazir Foead who witnessed first-hand the new peat development practices being perpetrated by the APRIL company in its Pulau Padang concession.

On the basis of these peat violations, the ministry suspended the operations of the APRIL company in this concession.

Not long thereafter, in September 2016, the ministry uncovered the legal fact that the APRIL company was still adding new plantation areas involving peatlands through its new peat development practices.

This finding prompted PT RAPP’s 10-year work plan to be revoked by the ministry in early October 2016.

This was not the end of the matter - the ministry also discovered on-the-spot facts demonstrating that the APRIL company was committing peat violationsin the form of new peat development in another of its concessions situated in the Kampar Peninsula landscape, also in Sumatra’s Riau province.

In early December 2016, the ministry ordered the company to remove the acacia recently planted in these newly-developed peat areas. However, the APRIL company failed to comply with this instruction.

This lack of compliance resulted in the imposition of sanctions on PT RAPP in early March this year, compelling the Singapore-based company to get rid of the acacia planted in these newly-developed peatlands as well as to close the new canals constructed there.

Eventually, the APRIL company reported, via an official letter sent to the ministry (Mar 31), that it had partially removed the acacia planted in the newly-developed peat areas and closed some of the new canals it had developed. The company also asked for an additional 30 days for it to comply with the provisions of the sanctions in full.

It should also be noted that the APRIL company’s operations were also hit by sanctions from the ministry due to the peat fires which ravaged its Pulau Padang concession in 2016.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Too much hot air: paper's climate change impacts in Indonesia

A new report ‘Too Much Hot Air‘, details the shocking climate change impacts of the Indonesian pulp and paper industry through damage to peatlands, and highlights solutions in the form of ‘paludiculture’, with examples of good practice from local communities. The report is a discussion document, and it concludes with questions about we can move to a more sustainable future for Indonesian peatlands.

The pulp and paper industry in Indonesia has extensive tree plantations on drained peatlands. After drainage, the peat oxidizes, releasing carbon in the form of CO2 into the atmosphere. Drained peatland contributes more than half of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which in addition to above-ground deforestation emissions, puts Indonesia among the world’s highest greenhouse gas emitters.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the Indonesian pulp and paper sector are estimated at 88 million tonnes of CO2 per year from peat oxidation, more than Finland’s entire national emissions. An additional unknown but probably even larger amount is released in periodic peat fire events, such as the one in 2015, which also caused life-threatening smog and haze.

Local communities in Indonesia are developing methods of managing peatlands in a responsible way, re-discovering traditional practices and experimenting with new methods of paludiculture, the practice of mixed crop production on undrained or re-wetted peat soils. However, the pulp and paper industry has not yet developed a corresponding paludiculture system at a sufficient scale to substantially reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and prevent excessive risk of fire and flooding. Urgent action is required to prevent a climate catastrophe.

Monday, March 27, 2017

After APP, also APRIL sanctioned by the Ministry

After removing the recently (illegally) plated acacia from APP plantations, an Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry high level inspection team visited the plantation of APRIL subsidiary PT RAPP and removed the acacia plants.
The inspection tema was lead by three director generals from the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry and it performed a a symbolic removal of acacia recently planted on burned peat, that should have been restored. In fact, a regulation issued last year prohibits to plant again on burned peat, until it has been decided how the peat will be restored. Both companies, APRIL and APP hurried to replant acacia on the plantation areas that has been hit by the huge fires n Autumn 2015.
The Ministry ordered PT Rapp to immediately remove the illegally planted acacia and to restore all the peatlands burned in the 2015 fires.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

To abide with the law, APRIL and APP should restore 1.7 million ha in their concession

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and APRIL are managing 38% of the BRG’s restoration total target or 1 million hectare. Analysing a previous analysis by Eyes on the Forest, Auriga says that in order to implement the full restoration mandated by the government, APP and APRIL must restore respectively 1,1 million hectare and 0,6 million hectare from each of their conservation area (approximately 40% of their total concession). Last Thursday, a team of the Environment and Forestry Ministry symbolically removed some acacia plants recently replanted after the fires, in violation with the recent regulations. The action happened at Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) subsidiary, PT BAP, in Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency.

Unfortunately, Indonesian implementation agencies are not fully cooperating. Auriga lamented that the Environment and Forestry Ministry criticised the peat restoration agency for not having started yet to actually restore land, while actually the ministry itself decreed that peat restoration can only be implemented after corporation’s annual business plan is revised. Auriga warned that the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency has stated the rainfall this year will be much lower than in 2016, and call enforcement agencies to collaborate a prompt implementation of the restoration and to minimise the risk of fires.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The land grabbed from Toba Pulp Lestari to be returned to indigenous people

Indonesia's decision to return customary lands to indigenous peoples is a breakthrough for their rights and a boost to campaigners pushing for a slowdown in deforestation in the Southeast Asian country, a leading rights activist said.

President Joko Widodo announced on Dec. 30 that Indonesia would return 13,000 hectares of customary lands to nine indigenous communities, and committed to giving back a total of 12.7 million hectares to local and indigenous groups.

Veteran indigenous rights campaigner Abdon Nababan, who attended the announcement at the presidential palace, said it was an encouraging sign for the traditional custodians of Indonesia's forests.

"In our constitution, since (independence in) 1945, there has been strong recognition and respect for indigenous rights, but until the end of last year, there has been no real legal recognition," said Nababan, secretary general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).

"This is the first time," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Jakarta.

Indonesia has been a focus of global efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions caused by widespread deforestation of swampy, carbon-rich peatlands to make way for plantations for industries such as palm oil, pulp and paper.

The deforested, drained peatlands are highly flammable, and smouldering peatland fires have caused choking haze across Southeast Asia in recent years.

These forests are often in remote areas long inhabited by indigenous peoples, who may not have the documents proving their land ownership or the ability to counter land acquisition by the government and corporations.

Most of the returned land is state forestland, Nababan said.

It includes a 5,000-hectare concession in North Sumatra province granted in 1992 to Indonesia-based pulp manufacturer Toba Pulp Lestari, company official Anwar Lawden said.

"With regards to the land claimed within our concession by several communities, we have been working with the Ministry of Forestry office for a long term solution," Lawden said in an emailed response to questions.

AMAN's Nababan, who began working on indigenous rights two decades ago, said the returned lands comprise a fraction of the 8.23 million hectares that some 700 indigenous communities have asked the government to return.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Indonesia's forest concessionaires required to restore peatland

According to the Jakarta Post, the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) will require forest concessionaires to restore 1.4 million hectares of peatland starting in January 2017. The move is set to affect 650,389 hectares managed by 36 forest concessionaires in five provinces, namely South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, Riau and Jambi, BRG head Nazir Foead said. “The areas to be restored are equivalent to 26 percent of the total peatland restoration target,” Nazir said.
Established by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to decrease forest fires, the agency has set a goal to recover 2.49 million ha of peatland of which about 1 million ha is located in protected forests, conservation forests and community forests.
During execution, the companies would have to comply with technical guidelines set by the government and install a monitoring censor for water surface with technology developed by the agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), Nazir said. BRG would closely monitor the implementation of the measure, he added.
Indonesia, home to the world’s third-biggest tropical rain forest after the Amazon and the Congo Basin, has dealt with concurrent forest fires in recent years, causing a spread of haze to neighboring Malaysia, Singapore and even Thailand. The fires has been fuelled by pulp and palm oil plantations on dried peat.