A sorry record on deforestation
DOUBTLESS timed to coincide with Indonesia’s election campaign, the release this week of a new report about the rate of destruction of the country’s tropical rainforests has certainly caught the eye. According to a paper published in the June 29th edition of the journal Nature Climate Change, Indonesia has now overtaken Brazil as the country with the highest rate of annual loss in primary forest in the world. The authors have used satellite imagery to map the deforestation over the period from 2000 to 2012.
Highlights of the paper include the fact that 16m hectares of forest was lost in this period, an area equivalent to the size of Greece; of that, 6m hectares, or 38%, was primary forest, the most valuable of all in terms of carbon and biodiversity; and that 40% of all the forest loss was in areas that are supposed to be officially protected. Most worryingly of all, despite the reams of laws and regulations that have been passed against deforestation over the years, the problem seems to be worsening. The loss of primary forest is increasing by an average of 47,600 hectares every year.
All of this makes for painful reading, and confirms what environmental campaigners, scientists and even a few Indonesian politicians have been arguing for years: that Indonesia’s laws have to be enforced much, much better if the situation is to be reversed. Corrupt local politicians, police and even army officers are still involved in selling off forest land to be cleared for palm-oil and paper-pulp plantations, illegal logging and much else. The land is most often cleared by burning, creating the dense and deadly haze clouds that drift across the island of Sumatra to Malaysia and Singapore, creating an almost annual diplomatic and environmental row. Last year the air pollution in Singapore and Malaysia as a result of the haze was the worst on record.
But don’t expect this report to have much of an impact on Indonesia’s election campaign. The arguments in this election are about economic nationalism, corruption and how to build more roads and ports. Deforestation still comes a long way down most Indonesians’ lists of priorities, and the competing candidates know that.