Indonesia revealed a long list of exemptions to a two-year moratorium on logging on Friday, a concession to the hard-lobbying plantation industry in the world’s top palm oil producing nation.
The moratorium, taking effect on Friday after a five-month delay, will exempt permits already given in principle by the forestry ministry and extensions of existing permits, as well as projects to develop supplies of energy, rice and sugar.
The exemptions were wider than expected after pressure from firms worried about expansion and a forestry ministry concerned about losing billions of US dollars each year in revenue from chopping down forests in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
“There was lots of pressure on the Indonesian government from the palm oil industry about this ban since we bring in significant investments,” said a Malaysian planter with assets in Indonesia, who declined to be identified. “Today’s final details show that agreeable concessions have been made.”
However, the moratorium will not provide compensation for firms unable to expand into protected land. It ordered a freeze on new permits to log or convert 64 million hectares of primary forests and peatlands.
The deal is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation under a US$1 billion climate deal with Norway, which praised the accord.
“The launch of the moratorium is one important step forward for Indonesia,” Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim said in a statement.
“What Indonesia is embarking on is a very serious development choice. Indonesia’s efforts to combine the goal of 7 percent economic growth with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2020 are commendable,” he said.
The final version was a let down for environmentalists hoping for wider protection of carbon-rich peat and endemic wildlife.
“This is a bitter disappointment. It will do little to protect Indonesia’s forests and peatlands,” Paul Winn of Greenpeace Australia-Pacific said. “-Seventy-five percent of the forests purportedly protected by this moratorium are already protected under existing Indonesian law, and the numerous exemptions further erode any environmental benefits.”
Industry body the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) praised the signing of the moratorium, as it targets annual 10 percent increases in green palm supplies.
“It is an affirmative step in the right direction that upholds the integrity of sustainable practices towards the production of palm oil, and reaffirms the country’s commitment in this area,” RSPO secretary-general Darrel Webber said in a statement.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday also signed a decree to allow underground mining activities in protected forests for 20 years, provided conditions such as an environmental assessment have been met.
The move is likely to upset green groups further, but provide relief for miners such as Newmont, Eramet and Bumi Resources.
Yudhoyono’s adviser on climate change, Agus Purnomo, said the forest moratorium would not hinder planters’ expansion.
“There is no limitation for those who want to develop -business-based plantations. We are not banning firms for palm oil expansion. We are just advising them to do so on secondary forests,” Purnomo told a news conference.
Joko Supriyono, secretary-general at the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki), said that uncertainty over the plan had slowed expansion last year to 300,000 hectares of palm oil plantations, from a minimum of 500,000 hectares in recent years.