Rainforest Indonesia: Success at last – Deforestation slowed down, positive trend

Indonesia is a country with completely different dimensions than we know them in Europe: around 280 million people populate the diverse island world. For comparison: Almost 450 million people live in the entire European Union. The land mass is also completely different: the Southeast Asian country consists of around 17,500 large and small islands. Exactly how many there are is not 100% sure.

This world’s largest archipelago, which travel brochures like to call “the emerald ribbon that hugs the equator,” is densely covered with tropical forests that are home to a variety of animal species. It’s one of those regions on earth where remote islands continue to reveal exciting wildlife mysteries. In Indonesia, biologists keep encountering unknown species. It wasn’t until the end of October that scientists reported the discovery of a new species of bird: the so-called Wakatobi sunbird – a pretty, black, blue and yellow bird that resembles a hummingbird.

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World’s largest palm oil producer

“The forests of Sumatra, Borneo and Papua are among the most important rainforest areas on earth”, says the nature conservation organization WWF, for example. They are home to orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos. In addition, there are many endemic species in both the animal and plant world. These are species found only in Indonesia and nowhere else in the world.

In order to preserve this diversity, however, the rainforest must be preserved. In the past, however, the headlines that have come from the island nation in this regard have often been anything but positive. Because in the past few decades, Indonesia has cleared and burned down huge areas, mainly to create wood and palm oil plantations. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil – a raw material that is used for numerous cosmetics and foods, but also for biofuels, for example. In 1990 two thirds of Indonesia were still covered with forest, according to the WWF the area decreased by 25.6 million hectares from 2011 to 2018.

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Positive trend may continue

But now there is hope: In 2017 and 2018, the deforestation rate in Indonesia fell for the first time and since then there have been more and more positive signs. Even if the deforestation was not stopped completely, it could be slowed down significantly. the official deforestation figures Indonesian government reports showed deforestation of 440,000 hectares in 2018, down slightly from 480,000 hectares in 2017.

And the trend could continue: “The rate of primary forest loss in Indonesia decreased in 2021 for the fifth year in a row,” said the report of the “Global Forest Review‘ published by the World Resources Institute. In 2021, the country lost 203,000 hectares primary forest. However, it should also be mentioned that there are still sinners: the situation has deteriorated in some cases, especially in the three provinces of East Kalimantan, Moluccas and West Papua. Nevertheless, each additional year with a decrease in overall deforestation is “a reason to celebrate”, the researchers judge. Because this shows that Indonesia is at least going in the right direction. The current goal is to further limit annual deforestation between 2020 and 2030 and to always keep it below 325,000 hectares per year.

Financial incentives for forest protection

Indonesia has at least managed to turn things around, even if a lot of work is still needed. This has been achieved thanks to several initiatives and reforms: a 2019 moratorium banning the clearing of primary forests and peatlands has proven effective. Deforestation in the areas defined therein could actually be reduced. A forest-based climate protection project has also played its part, as Sandy Nofyanza and Bimo Dwisatrio, two researchers from the Center for International Forestry Research, say in the magazine “The Conversation” write.

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The project, entitled “Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation” or REDD+ for short, gives financial incentives to people who protect forests. This is to ensure that it is economically more attractive to protect forests than to clear them. However, Nofyanza and Dwisatrio also acknowledged that their observations have shown that REDD+ is still struggling to trigger the intended “transformative change”. “For example, in Indonesia there is still a large-scale expansion of agricultural and urban areas,” say the researchers.

Positive: climate phenomenon La Niña

Since 2016, however, the government in Jakarta has also been trying to rehabilitate peat areas that have been cleared or burnt down. The latter was in response to the particularly devastating forest fires of 2015, when more than 2.6 million hectares of forest burned, much of it in peatlands. According to a recent scientific analysis carried out as part of the “IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science‘ was published, this restoration of peatlands has been at least ‘partially successful’. It worked well in all areas that the government had easy access to. But where companies own the land rights, the renaturation policy for the peat areas has not been able to take effect. However, the authors assessed positively that there is now a second phase in which, in addition to the rehabilitation of the peat forests, mangrove areas are also to be restored – another ecosystem that is considered an important carbon sink and should help Indonesia with the issue of climate protection and the achievement of a zero emissions goal.

But the weather has also played a positive role in recent years: the past few years have been characterized by three La Niña cycles. These bring more precipitation and, in the worst-case scenario, flooding – so the dreaded large-scale forest fires did not materialize.

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