Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest

Starling Resource produces a bi-weekly Indonesia Sustainable Development News Digest email for circulation to a broader cohort of practitioners, funders, and experts. The purpose of the digest is to present readers with a brief, easily digestible summary of significant, recent news items, reports, and papers relevant to conservation, sustainable development, and the environment in Indonesia, compiled from domestic Indonesian and international media sources. The digest is produced once every two weeks throughout the year. If you are interested in receiving the digest, please let us know by email at or subscribe here

News Digest
2017 – 22: 14 November 2017

After a few years of dormancy, Indonesia seems to be ramping up its REDD+ efforts to coincide with the ongoing COP 23.  In 2009, then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono laid out ambitious emission reduction targets and followed this up with an equally ambitious US $1 billion funding agreement with Norway and the creation of a REDD+ agency.  One of president Jokowi’s first moves as president was to reorganize national government, including the absorption of the REDD+ agency into the newly structured Ministry of Environment and Forestry.  Since that time, however, progress on REDD+ has stagnated in Indonesia. Now, spearheaded by a new agreement with Kemitraan (the Indonesian Partnership for Governance Reform), Indonesia seems to be pushing REDD+ development back to the fore. Kemitraan will apparently play a key role in coordination between Norway and Indonesia and will lead efforts regarding the development of required REDD+ infrastructure and capacity. New financing and MRV mechanisms appear to be in development as well. (see Foresty and Land Use section below). On a related note, the Indonesian supreme court has struck down a February regulation that required forestry companies to relinquish concession areas that overlap with designated peat conservation areas as indicated on the associated MoEF map. Many companies, such as RAPP, discussed here last week, have already started revising their work plans. However, prior rulings also require some form of revision to work plans and protection of peatlands. The net result of the ruling will likely be regulatory confusion for forestry companies for the time being.

Marine & Fisheries

Indonesia’s war on illegal fishing continues with new sinking
— Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, 1 November 2017
On October 29, the Indonesian government sank another 17 foreign vessels alleged to have been operating illegally in its waters. Though there have been some diplomatic efforts to address the concerns of the governments where the vessels are registered, the sinking of ships itself shows no sign of stopping. So far in 2017, the government has sunk a total of 110 illegal fishing vessels, raising the total to 317. Indonesia’s Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti said at a seminar last month that approximately 100 more illegal fishing vessels would be sunk during the remaining months of the year. Sinking ceremonies have been planned for several locations across Indonesia through the end of 2017. Indonesian officials also said that they are continuing with plans for public display of foreign-flagged vessels arrested by Indonesian authorities in order to educate people about the importance of eradicating illegal fishing.

Chinese fishing boats found with piles of dead sharks linked to company accused of forced labor
— Felicity James, ABC News, 7 November 2017
A Chinese company accused of financing forced labor, torture, and poaching by fishing vessels has been linked to fishing boats captured in Timor-Leste waters in September with "thousands" of dead sharks on board.  Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL) and Sea Shepherd's MY Ocean Warrior conducted a joint raid targeting 15 boats, which the team said revealed "thousands and thousands of [dead] sharks", including some protected species. Following the raid, the Timor-Leste Government suspended the fishing licenses that had been granted to Hong Long Fisheries, a related entity of Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd., a Chinese fishing conglomerate which is listed on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange in the U.S.  "We received information from our neighbor country [Indonesia] that Hong Long Fisheries has [been] involved in illegal fishing and has [a] negative record in the past," Timor-Leste Fisheries Minister Estanislau da Silva said. In 2016 the Jakarta Administrative Court upheld the Indonesian Fisheries Ministry's decision to cancel a fishing license granted to PT Dwikarya Reksa Abadi, another company reportedly owned and controlled by Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd.  Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries had earlier found that Dwikarya engaged in the torture of crew members, forced labor and other serious labor law breaches, illicitly traded in protected species, and paid bribes to public officials.

Fishermen made to wait for free boats from Indonesian government
— The Jakarta Globe 
Indonesia's Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries said that it will carry on with a boat grant program to provide new fishing vessels for struggling fishermen even though it is already way behind its 2017 target. The Director General of Capture Fisheries Sjarief Widjaja said on 7 November   that 754 fishing boats had already been provided for poor fishermen across Indonesia by the end of GT ton vessels and 18 30-GT vessels, and the Ministry plan was to distribute another 782 fishing vessels by the end of this year to make up for the delays in 2016. However, fishermen have complained that the boats received did not match their desired specifications, while others were supplied with no fishing equipment. Many of the free boats apparently still remain unused.

No contaminated canned sardines: Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries
—The Jakarta Globe 9 November 2017
The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry has denied reports that canned sardines distributed to the domestic market is tainted with heavy metals. “We give assurances that the egg- or crystal-like substance [found in fish] is not a result of heavy metal contamination,” said Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Research and Human Resources Agency (BRSDMKP) head Zulficar Mochtar said, as reported by Mochtar explained that the substance was known as Glugea sardinellensis, a microsporidian parasite infecting sardines and other teleost fishes. Meanwhile, Maritime and Fishery Products Director General Nilanto Perbowo called on the public to ignore fake reports, saying that sardine was hygienically processed before being canned. “Canned fish produced in Indonesia is safe to consume. It is not contaminated by heavy metal or any other dangerous material,” he added.

Forestry & Land Use

Indonesian Supreme Court strikes down regulation on peat protection
— Hans Nicholas Jong & Lusia Arumnigtyas, Mongabay, 2 November 2017
Indonesia’s Supreme Court has quashed a ministerial regulation obliging forestry companies to relinquish and protect carbon-rich concessions in protected peat areas. The ruling was handed down on 2 October by the Supreme Court in response to a challenge filed in June by a labor union in Sumatra’s Riau province, one of the regions particularly hard hit by peat fires and choking haze they generate. Opposition to the regulation came from businesses, labor unions and  politicians, who argued that a requirement to retire plantation lands on deep peat would hurt the pulp and paper industry, especially in Riau province, home to 14,000 square kilometers (5,405 square miles) of industrial timber plantations. The regulation was part of a package of new rules meant to prevent a recurrence of the annual fires that burn across Indonesia’s vast peat swamp zones. The government says the court ruling will not hamper the nation’s efforts to protect its peatlands.

Kemitraan to Assist Indonesia on REDD+ Implementation
— Dames Alexander Sinaga, Jakarta Globe, 04 November 2017
Indonesia’s REDD+ begins new chapter
— Moses Ompusunggu, Jakarta Post, 6 November 2017
Indonesia tries to learn from Brazil’s success in REDD+
— Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 10 November 2017
The US$1 billion Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) agreement between Indonesia and Norway entered a transformational phase this month with Indonesia now undertaking work to improve infrastructure supporting the program. This phase will continue through July 2018, after which Indonesia is expected to receive $800 million from Norway as agreed in a Letter of Intent signed by the two countries in 2010. As of today, $112 million had been handed over by Norway to Indonesia under the agreement. About $50 million were given to the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), which is tasked with restoring as many as two million hectares of peatland destroyed by decades of mismanaged oil palm plantations. In 2013, then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono established the BP REDD+ agency to coordinate all efforts under the REDD scheme. The agency was soon disbanded by President Joko Widodo, and its duties and powers taken over by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Since then, there has been little progress on REDD+ in Indonesia. Norway’s climate and environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, said last year that his government “hadn’t seen actual progress in reducing deforestation in Indonesia.” Now, the Indonesian government and the Jakarta-based Partnership for Governance Reform (Kemitraan), signed a cooperation agreement. As part of the negotiations with Norway, Kemitraan is entrusted with facilitating the implementation of infrastructure and capacity-building programs, including implementing coordination and communication between the two countries.  "If the preparation process is going well, the Norwegian government is looking forward to making available the first funding of verified emissions reductions to the Indonesian government by 2018," Norwegian Ambassador, Vegard Kaale, said. Other recent initiatives include the development of a public service unit (BLU) to handle financing. The previous scheme, called Financing REDD+ in Indonesia (FREDDI), aimed to distribute financial assistance via grants, investments and trade intermediaries. The scheme was scrapped along with BP REDD+. The new funding instrument that would underwrite all environmental initiatives, not just those under REDD+, and, as a BLU, will be able to invest outside the state budget and receive revenue from its own activities. The establishment of the new entity is pending a presidential decree.  Ministry of Environment and Forestry is also developing an MRV system to report on emissions reductions as a result of REDD+ actions, according to Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar. “We can’t afford to be left behind [in REDD+] anymore,” Siti said.

Indonesian president recognizes land rights of nine more indigenous groups
— Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 12 November 2017
Indonesian President Joko Widodo last month gave back land rights over nine tracts of forest, covering 33.4 square kilometres, to several indigenous communities that have laid claim to the forests for generations. The total amount of customary forests relinquished to local groups to date totals 10,800 km2, far short of Jokowi’s commitment to deliver 127,000 km2, a commitment which helped him attain a first-ever presidential endorsement from the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archpelago (AMAN). At a recent conference Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar noted that the government would only realistically be able to approve a total 43,800 square kilometers, just over a third of the promised total, for community forestry schemes by 2019, when President Jokowi will stand for re-election.

Paradise Papers: Leaked records reveal role of offshore companies in forest destruction
— Scilla Alecci, The Irish Times, 9 November 2017 
A leak of records about offshore companies now reveals that Indonesia’s April Group, one of the world’s largest producers of pulp and paper, owed its ability to thrive and log huge sections of Indonesia’s tropical forests to efforts by a global network of elite bankers, lawyers and accountants that helped it navigate corporate and tax challenges. The documents from Bermuda-based offshore law firm Appleby and corporate services provider Estera showed how the law firm coordinated with banks such as Credit Suisse and the Netherlands’ ABN Amro to help April structure its operations despite concerns about the company’s environmental record. Internal records from Appleby underline concerns of scholars, advocacy groups and government officials that the offshore financial system contributes to the expansion of companies involved in levelling forests and other practices that contribute to global climate change. The leaked documents were obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 94 other media partners including The Irish Times.

Can blockchain save Indonesia’s forests?
— Hannah Koh, Eco-Business, 6 November 2017 
Carbon Conservation, an industry group, and tech platform Dappbase have joined forces to fight haze-causing forest fires in Indonesia using a blockchain-based smart contract.  Blockchain technology will be used for the first time this December in a pilot program effort to protect Indonesia’s rainforests and prevent the peatland haze fires that blight the region on a regular basis. The Smart Contract for Good program will automatically distribute funding to villages in Aceh that successfully reduce incidences of fire. This is to be done using a computer protocol or set of rules based on a blockchain to verify and enforce the terms of the contract. Rewards will be drawn down from a war chest, or “bounty”, of US$100,000 which has been pledged by Indonesian corporate sponsors, which will go towards building infrastructure such as schools and hospitals to benefit local communities.

Open digital mapping for assessing carbon storage in tropical peatlands
—Phys, 8 November 2017
Researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia and Institut Pertanian Bogor in Indonesia proposed an open digital mapping methodology, making use of open data in an open-source environment, as a cost-effective and accurate method for mapping peat lands and their carbon stock for large areas in Indonesia. This open methodology combines field observations with factors that are known to be related to peat depth distribution, represented by multi-source remotely-sensed data derived from freely-available open data. These include digital elevation models from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, geographical information, radar (ALOS PALSAR and Sentinel 1 data) and optical images (Landsat TM). The method makes use of advanced machine learning models to estimate peat depth every 30 meters on the land surface. The authors successfully applied this approach in mapping peat thickness and carbon stock in the Bengkalis Island, Sumatra, covering an area of 50,000 ha. Producing a peat map for an area of 50,000 ha take an estimated 2-4 months and cost between US$0.30-0.50 per hectare.   

Energy, Climate Change and Pollution

PLN’s tighter grip on projects worries IPPs
— Viriya P. Singgih, The Jakarta Post, 9 November 2017A
Business groups have voiced concern about the move by state-owned electricity firm Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) to increase its control over power plant projects nationwide, which they fear may make the projects unbankable. The country’s sole electricity off-taker has announced its plan to offer tenders for 12 mine-mouth coal-fired power plants worth US$7.2 billion overall this year. The plants will be located in Sumatra and Kalimantan and are slated for commercial operations within the 2020-2024 period. Independent power producers (IPPs) that win the tender will be required to develop the facilities jointly with the PLN subsidiaries PT Indonesia Power or PT Pembangkitan Jawa Bali (PJB). This is a change from the present arrangement in which the IPPs build the plants themselves and then sell the electricity to PLN. Head of the permanent committee for energy, oil and gas at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), Agustinus Santoso, said that many IPPs had complained about the partnership scheme with PLN’s subsidiaries as the latter were expected to control around 30-51% stakes in the projects.

USA imposes anti-dumping duties on biodiesel imports from Indonesia
— Abdullah Fikri Ashri et al., Kompas, 6 November 2017
On Monday (23/10) the US Commerce Department issued a preliminary ruling and decided to set anti-dumping duties of 50.71% on biodiesel imports from Indonesia. According to the USA, Indonesia dumps its biodiesel products on the US market because the Indonesian government subsidizes the production of biodiesel through a biodiesel support program funded via a levy on exports of palm oil and its derivatives which was authorized by Presidential Decree 61/2015. Revenues from the levy are used to offset the difference between fossil-fuel diesel and biodiesel prices, making it possible for biodiesel blends to be sold at the same price as fossil-fuel diesel. Indonesia’s palm oil industry has created making it possible for Indonesia. Since the inauguration of US president Donald Trump, the US government has initiated 73 anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations up to 23 October 2017.

Conservation & Protected Areas

Indonesia races against time to save new orangutan species
— Hans Nicholas Jong, Asia Correspondent, 7 November 2017
The Indonesian government is rushing to protect the newly described Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), which was immediately described as the most endangered great ape on the planet. The discovery that this isolated population of an estimated 800 orangutans in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, is a new species distinct from both the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan populations has been hailed as a major breakthrough. The Tapanuli orangutan is the first new great ape species to be described since the bonobo in the Congo Basin in 1929, and its tiny total estimated population makes it the world’s rarest. Despite the initial elation of the new discovery, the Tapanuli orangutan is already in trouble as it is under threat from the expansion of human development, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology, which first described the new orangutan species.

Pete Oxford’s whale shark project is a rare positive conservation story
— David Walker, Photo District News 8 November 2017
Pete Oxford’s story “Good Luck Sharks” which was recently published by bioGraphic about whale sharks in Indonesia, is a small oasis amidst all the bad news. The story shows the mutually beneficial relationships of fishermen, tourists and sharks. Indonesia remains one of the worst nations for the cruel practice of shark finning, but the fishermen near West Papua “have long revered whale sharks as harbingers of good luck,” Oxford says. The sharks are also docile and curious. The fishermen jump in and swim with them for the joy of it. “You can get really close to them,” Oxford says. Now eco-tourists are paying for the experience, which translates to tourist dollars for the fishermen and their communities, and fundraising opportunities for conservation organizations. “It’s a win–win” for sharks, tourists and fishermen, Oxford says.

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