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
16th Edition:  4 September 2018

Marine & Fisheries
Indonesia sinks 125 mostly foreign illegal fishing vessels
— Associated Press, 22 August 2018
Indonesia has sunk another 125 mostly foreign vessels involved in illegal fishing as it ramps up efforts to exert greater control over its vast maritime territory, an official said. The scuttling was carried out simultaneously at 11 locations across Indonesia on 20 August. Lily Pregiwati, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, said the government did not announce the operation in advance in order to avoid straining relations with neighboring countries.  Since October 2014, Indonesia has sunk 488 illegal fishing vessels which the government says pose a threat to the local fishing industry. Indonesia claims that operators of illegal fishing vessels frequently perpetrate modern-day slavery, using workers trafficked from Southeast Asian nations. The vessels sunk in this operation included 86 Vietnamese-flagged ships, 20 Malaysian, and 14 from the Philippines.

What’s Next for Indonesia’s submarine program?
— Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, 29 August 2018
Reports have recently surfaced saying that Indonesia has allocated funding for the procurement of another submarine. While not surprising in itself, this nonetheless deserves attention amid the immediate challenges Jakarta faces as well as in the context of its wider military modernization efforts. Indonesia today is woefully underequipped for underwater warfare, with just two German-built Type 209 submarines and two of the three South Korean submarines ordered back in 2012 and received in 2017 and 2018. (The third South Korean submarine is being constructed in Indonesia). Even after final delivery of that vessel, Indonesia will still be short of the 12 submarines the country needs to police its waters. While there have been various attempts to address this gap over the years, with talk of possible new submarine purchases from various sources, there has also been a recognition that Jakarta will probably remain far short of that 12 submarine objective for years to come.

Another mass fish-kill hits Indonesia’s largest lake
— Ayat S Karokaro, Mongabay, 24 August 2018
Millions of fish in floating cages on Lake Toba, North Sumatra, suddenly died  in late August. In the days leading up to the die-off, a local aquafarmer noticed the fish in his floating pens moving in an odd manner and that the water became cloudy as well. By the morning of August 24, no fish could be seen rising to the surface in the floating enclosures. Aquafarmers tried adding oxygen to the water, but this didn’t work. Researchers attributed the incident to a sudden depletion of oxygen in the water, the result of a build-up of pollutants in the lake, unfavourable weather conditions, and unsustainable practices by local aquafarmers. Jhunellis Sinaga, a Samosir district government official, estimated the loss to farmers at 180 tons of fish worth Rp4 billion (US$273,000). This was the second mass fish kill in in the lake following an earlier occurrence in 2016.

Seafood industry and government leaders discuss sustainability and marine pollution in Southeast Asia
— Chris Chase, Seafood Source, 29 August 2018
The Oceans and Fisheries Partnership  of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) led a business roundtable titled “Oceans Dialogue: Expanding Collaboration for Our Oceans“ focused on marine sustainability, traceability and pollution in Southeast Asia to encourage  private sector commitments  in advance of this year’s Our Oceans Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in November . The gathering was hosted by the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Los Angeles. The roundtable discussion featured panelists from multiple parts of the industry and government in the region: Director General Rifky Effendi Hardijanto of Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Roxanne Nanninga of Thai Union, Natalie Webster of the International Pole and Line Foundation and the American Albacore Fishing Association, Helen Packer of Anova Food USA, and Farid Maruf of USAID Oceans.

Indonesia, Namibia agree to jointly combat illegal fishing
— Hanni Sofia and Eliswan, Antara, 30 August 2018
Indonesia and Namibia have agreed to jointly combat the practice of "illegal fishing" rife in the maritime areas of the two states. Delivering a joint statement along with President of the Namibian Republic Hage Geingob at the Bogor Presidential Palace, on 27 August, President Joko Widodo noted that cooperation in the field of maritime and fisheries, “especially in the joint efforts to combat `illegal fishing,” has been established with the joint signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on maritime affairs and fisheries." President Geingob highlighted the importance of the Namibia’s agricultural sector, which is not yet self-sufficient in food production.

Ministry of Transportation is focusing to increase Sea Toll productivity
— [translated] Ismadi, MaritimeNews Indonesia, 28 August 2018
Budi Karya Sumadi, Minister of Transportation, expressed hope that the Sea Toll President Joko Widodo’s program to improve the logistics of sea transport in Indonesia—can be used to spark economic transport of products from eastern Indonesia  to western Indonesia. Capt. Wisnu Handko, Director of Sea Traffic and Transportation, noted the problem of the low rate of fulfilment of back-loaded cargo on ships departing from eastern Indonesia. To improve the balance of trade, the ministry  encourages local government leaders and market players in eastern Indonesia to use the Sea Toll program to distribute their industrial goods and other featured products. Capt. Wisnu said the plan to increase the subsidized container handling activity in eastern Indonesia is not yet on target, which is why the government still focuses on improving access to shipping services for  disadvantaged, remote, outer and border areas.

Western countries plan bigger diplomatic footprint in the Pacific
— Colin Packham, Reuters, 29 August 2018
The United States, Australia, France and Britain will open new embassies in the Pacific, boost staffing levels and engagement with leaders of island nations in a bid to counter China’s rising influence in the region, according to sources. The battle for influence in the sparsely populated Pacific matters because each of the tiny island states has a vote at international forums like the United Nations, and also because these states also control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean. Since 2011, China has spent US$1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts to become the second-largest donor to Pacific nations after Australia, leading to concern in the West that some states in the region could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing. In response, Australia, New Zealand and the US say they will increase economic aid and expand their diplomatic presence in the region, government officials and diplomats told Reuters.

UN begins talks on treaty to protect high seas
— Philippe Rater (AFP), The Jakarta Post, 3 September 2018
The UN began talks on a long-awaited 2020 treaty to regulate the high seas, which cover half the planet but lack environmental protection.  The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) left the high seas beyond national jurisdictions free from restrictions.  Talks are expected to focus on creating protected areas, sharing of maritime resources and technology, and research on environmental impacts.  Liz Karan, an ocean expert at the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, called the negotiations “a critical turning point”.  According to Sandra Shottner, a marine biologist with Greenpeace, “a strong global ocean treaty would allow us to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect wildlife, ensure food security for billions of people, and help us to tackle climate change.”

Forestry & Land Use

Logging is claiming the last of Indonesia’s forests
— Gabrielle Lipton, CIFOR Forest News, 27 August 2018
Indonesia’s last seasonal tropical forests are located in the Tanimbar archipelago of Maluku Province, south of the Banda Seas—and they’re entirely unprotected. One of the most remote parts of the archipelago, Tanimbar has no formal port of entry, and the population of about 100,000 is scattered across the 30 or so islands in the group. This isolation has long been a shield of protection for the islands, keeping the forest cover constant for decades after local communities revolted against logging companies that came in during the era of Indonesian president Suharto. But recent satellite imagery shows deforestation from logging companies has returned.  Scientists working on Yamdena are calling for quick national action to protect these endangered forests. The remoteness of this island appeals to the logging companies because it makes their operations more secure, hidden from scrutinizing eyes. Because there are no nationally protected areas, this island could theoretically be commercially logged in its entirety.

4 killed in Indonesia forest fires; police arrest suspects
— Associated Press, 28 August 2018
Police in West Kalimantan have arrested more than a dozen people suspected of starting forest fires that killed four people in August. Police Chief Didi Haryono said two of the 27 people sought by police died in the blazes they started to clear land for planting. The 14 people who have been arrested so far could be prosecuted under an environmental protection law that allows a maximum 10-year prison sentence for setting fires to clear land. Officials also said the recent haze in West Kalimantan had diminished due to fire-fighting efforts. Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, director of investigation and forest protection at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said the number of “hotspots” in West Kalimantan had dropped to 21 on 27 August from a high of 60 the previous day.  A total of 71,959 hectares (ha) of land have burned in forest fires so far this year, compared to 165,464 ha from January to July last year, Panjaitan said.

Govt closes burned concession land
— Kharishar Kahfi and Severianus Endi, The Jakarta Post, 28 August 2018
Facing a citizens’ law suit filed by civil society activists over alleged improper work methods in the mitigation of forest fires in 2015, the Indonesian government has moved swiftly to mitigate fires this year. The Ministry of the Environment and Forestry recently sealed off land owned by five companies holding plantation concessions in Kubu Raya, West Kalimantan which were allegedly responsible for the fires. “[These] landowners are restricted from carrying out any activities [on their land], ” according to a ministry statement in which the five companies were identified only by their initials: PT SUM, PT PLD, PT AAN, PT APL and PT RJP. In Riau, hot spots that spread to peatlands in Lubuk Gaung and Tanjung Penyebal subdistricts have yet to be extinguished. The government is currently appealing a ruling issued by the Palangkaraya District Court in March 2017 which found  President Joko Widodo liable for failing to control wildfires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2015.

Traditional slash-and-burn practices ‘don’t cause haze’
— Severianus Endi and Kharishar Kahfi (The Straits Times), The Jakarta Post 31 August 2018
Aman Clearing land using ‘slash-and-burn’ practices is part of a Dayak traditional ritual called gawai, carried out by people of Iban communities across West Kalimantan and parts of Sarawak in Malaysia. The Dayak Kualan community in Ketapang regency has a traditional customary law called palayo to punish traditional farmers who have been found burning neighboring lands or forests. Thomas Tion, a Dayak Kualan community member, said it was unlikely that traditional farmers and smallholders could cause rampant wildfires leading to haze as they prefer mineral soil over peatland when selecting land for conversion to agriculture. This claim was a response to a recent statement by National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho claiming that forest fires in several regions across the province were caused by the gawai tradition, which triggered an uproar within the communities. Sutopo subsequently apologized and retracted the statement.

Indonesia's 2018 crude palm oil output to climb to 40-42 million tonnes
— Emily Chow, Reuters, 29 August 2018
Indonesia’s  crude palm oil output is set to climb by 4-6 million tonnes from last year to 40-42 million tons in 2018, according to Togar Sitanggang, vice chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI). “Output will be better this year ... because of [recent] replanting in the private sector, which will give better yields,” the official said on the sidelines of an industry conference in Kuala Lumpur.  Togar added that the output gains would push up year-end stocks unless exports pick up. Palm oil output usually rises in line with seasonal factors in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

Energy, Climate Change & Pollution

Graft and government policy align to keep Indonesia burning coal
— Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay 28 August 2018
The Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested nine people in connection with the awarding of contracts for the $900 million Riau-1 coal-fired power plant in Sumatra. Those detained including Idrus Marham, former Minister of Social Affairs in the Joko Widodo administration. Investigators have questioned Sofyan Basir, head of state-owned utility PLN, ultimately responsible for sanctioning the projects. PLN has since suspended the 600-megawatt Riau-1 project, but this is only one of dozens of new coal-fired power plants planned for construction. Riau-1 was awarded by PLN subsidiary Pembangkitan Jawa Bali (PJB) to a private consortium of companies without a transparent bidding process.  Johannes Budisutrisno Kotjo, a top shareholder of one consortium member, was also among those arrested in the anti-graft bust, charged with bribing Eni Maulani Saragih, who sits on the parliamentary oversight committee for energy policy, who has also been charged.

Subsidies are key to renewable energy
— The Jakarta Post, 1 September 2018
The development of geothermal power plants is one of the government’s top priorities in increasing  renewable energy’s share of electric power generation from only 13% at present to 23% by 2025. However, renewable energy development in Indonesia could screech to a halt due to high costs exacerbated by the lack of a government subsidy to ensure financial sustainability. According to Doddy Pangaribuan, Executive Vice President for Corporate Planning of the state-owned electricity company PLN, many investors who initially saw potential in geothermal investment have withdrawn due to the high financial risks of investing in this sector. Prijandaru Effendi,  chairman of the Indonesian Geothermal Association (API), said that PLN should commit to buy all the electricity produced from geothermal power plants so investors would have no doubts about their investment.  At present, “there is no binding agreement until the [geothermal] exploration is completed,” Prijandaru added.

Water drying up as droughts hit regions
— Ivany Atina Arbi et al., The Jakarta Post, 28 August 2018
Millions of residents in several regions across Indonesia face water shortages due to droughts. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predicted that the droughts would continue until the end of October this year.  An estimated 2.2 million people have been affected by the drought in Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara and West Java this year, according to data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB). Central Java has suffered the most, with more than 825,000 people affected. Meanwhile, the West Java Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) reported that 291,026 families in the province have no clean drinking water. “[We] have distributed around 4.1 million liters of water,” Budi Budiman, a BPBD official, said. The West Java provincial government has issued a decree declaring a state of emergency from 1 August 1 until 31 October.

Indonesia’s push to nationalize energy assets could chill foreign investment
— Jessica Jaganathan and Wilda Asmarini, Reuters 29 August 2018
Indonesia is pushing to nationalize more of its oil and gas assets to reduce imports and boost government revenue. Since 2015, whenever product-sharing contracts with international companies expired, the government has increased the stake of state-owned oil company Pertamina, with the goal of accelerating a plan to send  more domestic crude oil to Indonesian refineries. However, experts say this strategy is risky because it discourages investors and global energy companies who have the expertise crucial to maintaining Indonesia’s output. Indonesia’s crude oil output has declined from more than 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in the 1970s to below 800,000 bpd now, and he “… upstream sector has seen licensing activity and development drilling fall to decade-low levels,” according to Den Syahril, a senior oil analyst at FGE, a consultancy. Without significant spending increases, Indonesia has only 10 years of oil production left, Rachel Chua of Moody’s Investors Service said.

Government and stakeholders to monitor new B20 extended biodiesel policy
— Rachmadea Aisyah, The Jakarta Post, 3 September 2018
The government and stakeholders have vowed to ensure smooth implementation of the new extended B20 biodiesel policy in the public and private services sector. Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution said the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources  (MoEMR) and the Indonesian Palm Oil Estate Fund under the Ministry of Finance had been assigned to supervise implementation. A recent Presidential Regulation No. 66/2018 authorized the extension of the use of B20 to the non-public service obligation sector, including heavy machinery and various forms of transportation such as ships and trains. B20 (a 20% blend of palm-oil based biofuel and diesel) is replacing Solar, the regular diesel fuel, at the same price of Rp5,150 (US$0.35) per litre instead of the price of Rp7,294 assigned by the MoEMR in August. The B20 expansion is expected to save US$2.0 to $2.3 billion in fuel imports from now until the end of 2018, Darmin said.

Jakarta air quality at ‘unhealthy’ level during Asian Games
— The Jakarta Post, 3 September 2018
The air quality over Jakarta in late August was below World Health Organization (WHO) standards, according to Greenpeace.  “The daily average of PM2.5 was above 38 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³), Greenpeace campaigner Bondan Andriyanu said, more than three times higher than the limit of 10 µg/m³ the WHO considers safe. The Jakarta administration played down any concern.  Andono Warih, head of the Jakarta Environment Agency, said the average pollution level was “quite safe” because the level of PM10 concentration was still within the safe range. However, Greenpeace called on the Jakarta government to replace PM10 (particles 10 microns in diameter) with PM2.5 (referring to particles smaller than 2.5 microns), as recommended by WHO.  PM2.5 pollution is considered more dangerous than PM10 pollution because the particles can enter and remain in the lungs, leading to pulmonary, cardiovascular, and other diseases.

Conservation & Protected Areas

As Bali Reclamation project dies, activists seek conservation status
— Luh De Suriyani, Mongabay 30 August 2018
Hundreds of people are celebrating a key victory against a multi-billion-dollar land reclamation project that would have destroyed vast swaths of mangroves on the resort island of Bali. August 25 marked four years since PT Tirta Wahana Bali International (TWBI), a property development unit of Indonesian tycoon Tomy Winata’s Artha Graha conglomerate, was granted a concession to develop Benoa Bay. But from the beginning, the Benoa Bay reclamation project, valued at 30 trillion rupiah (US$2 billion), has been criticized by conservationists. Its permit would have allowed it to build artificial islands for a convention center, hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, spanning a total of 700 hectares, but the permit expired because the developer failed to secure government approval for its environmental impact assessment (AMDAL) for the project. Now the activists have called on the government to restore the bay’s status as a strictly protected area for future conservation.

Illegal mine found in orangutan habitat in West Kalimantan
— The Jakarta Post 27 August 2018
A joint team from the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry and the West Kalimantan Police uncovered an unlicensed bauxite mine inside a protected habitat for orangutans in Ketapang regency, West Kalimantan. Investigators believe the mining activities in the Sungai Tulak area were carried by bauxite miner PT Laman Mining without a forest area utilization permit. The investigation followed a tip from the locals. On Aug. 20, the joint team raided the mining site and found three excavators operating and four others in a nearby location. Investigators have named the company a suspect in the case and charged it with illegal mining under the 2013 Law on Deforestation, which provides for a maximum fine of Rp 50 billion (US$3.43 million). The team is closely investigating the possible roles of the company’s board of directors and commissioners, who are suspected of being among the masterminds of the company’s illegal mining activities.

Investments begin to flow into Labuan Bajo
— Aloysius Lewokeda and Sri Haryati, Antara 30 August 2018
Agustinus Ch Dula, the Regent of Manggarai Barat on the island of Flores, said the local investment climate is conducive to growth in the district as indicated by investment beginning to flow into Labuan Bajo, the main gateway for access to Komodo National Park. The regent said a number of significant investment projects such as international standard hotels are under construction in Labuan Bajo. A sea port for tourism cruise vessels is scheduled for completion in 2019 along with a container terminal port.  An international airport is also expected to be built in Labuan Bajo to facilitate foreign tourists visiting the Komodo National Park. "There are also smaller projects such as a garbage recycling plant, garbage disposal plant, clean water facility, roads, and other public facilities," the regent said.





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