Illegal Logging, Tsunami Reconstruction, Biofuels, and Climate Change: Indonesian Governors Take Action

In late April, the governors of Indonesia’s most forest-rich provinces—Aceh in the northwest and Papua and West Papua in the east—pledged to reduce the massive deforestation that makes Indonesia a major contributor of greenhouse gases, possibly third in the world after the United States and China. The governors are motivated by more than environmental concerns. They also worry about pervasive poverty and unemployment, lack of community rights over natural resources, and the need for investment to invigorate their economies.

Indonesia is an environmental and biodiversity hotspot. Its 90 million hectares of tropical forest account for 10 percent of the world’s remaining total. But the country has already lost close to three quarters of its original forest cover, and half of the remaining stands are considered threatened by logging and often indiscriminate land clearing to make room for plantations. It is widely believed that 80 percent or more of all the timber produced in Indonesia stems from illegal operations. Illegal logging cuts down 2.1 million hectares of forest every year.


Aceh’s long-lasting conflict, which was ended by a peace agreement in August 2005, was highly conducive to illegal logging operations, often with the connivance of corrupt police and military forces. However, illicit timber cutting has since received another boost due to the massive need for construction materials in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami that devastated much of Aceh’s coastline.


A field survey conducted in April by Greenomics Indonesia, an independent NGO, found that Aceh reconstruction had used some 850,000 cubic meters of illegal logs. Unwittingly, both the Aceh and Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR) and international agencies have relied on such logs. Overall, some 85 percent of timber in Aceh comes from illegally logged forests, principally from the neighboring provinces of North Sumatra and Riau. Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf has decided to impose a temporary moratorium on logging so as to create an opportunity to develop more sustainable forest management practices and stronger law enforcement.


In Papua, illegal logging and the conversion of forests into palm oil plantations—fueled by the rising demand for biofuels—are behind the growing deforestation. The governors of Papua and West Papua said they will revoke licenses of logging companies that do not contribute to sustainable forest management, and will reallocate up to 5 million hectares of conversion forest for carbon trading purposes.