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
2019 – 1: 9 January 2019

Marine & Fisheries
 ‘Everything’s moving’: Indonesia seeks global pushback against illegal fishing
— Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 6 January 2019
Authorities seized the STS-50 last April carrying 30 km of illegal gillnets, a ghost ship which has sailed under a variety of different flags and names around the world. “To this day, we still can’t target the owners,” Susi Pudjiastuti, the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries said at a recent press conference at her office in Jakarta. “The beneficial owners aren’t clear, so it’s difficult for us to track them down.”The fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Indonesia continues to be stymied by the complex web of offshore holdings that own much of the illegal fishing fleet. In response, Minister Susi has called for an international consensus to include IUU fishing in the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which currently addresses human trafficking, gun trafficking, and migrant smuggling. The ministry is also working on a revised fisheries law which would include provisions to punish corporate and other beneficial owners of IUU vessels.

Global tidal flat ecosystems decline under pressure from coastal development
— Nicholas J. Murray et al., Nature, 19 December 2018
Mangrove, coral reef, seagrass, kelp forest and coastal marsh ecosystems are experiencing extensive loss and fragmentation due to coastal development, erosion, reduced sediment delivery, and sea-level rise. However, the distribution and extent of tidal flats — which are sand, rock or mud flats that undergo regular tidal inundation, and which constitute one of the most extensive coastal ecosystems — has remained essentially unknown. A new study using artificial intelligence and satellite imagery has shown that the area of foreshore ecosystems protecting more than 625 million people worldwide declined by as much as 16% between 1984 and 2016. Nearly half (44%) of the world’s tidal flats are located in Asia. Indonesia has the greatest extent of tidal flats (14,416 km2) among countries, followed by China (12,049 km2) and Australia (8,866 km2)."Identifying areas where intertidal zones are being lost to development and rising seas is critical to safeguard coastal communities," according to Richard Fuller, University of Queensland, one of the co-authors.

Indonesian marine life affected by sinking of Ocean Princess
— Rahmad Nasution, Antara News, 4 January 2019
An oil tanker, the Ocean Princess, capsized and sank in the waters near Aemoli village in the Pantar Strait, Alor, in eastern Indonesia on 22 December. The oil products tanker was carrying diesel fuel from Timor Leste to Singapore. The East Nusa Tenggara provincial government’s marine and fishery authority has sent a team to assess the damages caused by the oil spill resulting from the sinking vessel. Ganef Wurgiyanto, the head of the East Nusa Tenggara Marine and Fishery Office, stated there had been damages to marine life, but that the local government would not file a case in court. Instead, his office would be demanding payment for material losses without trial, considering that the sinking had been categorized as an accident.

Violations of shark fishing ban in Raja Ampat continue
— Petir Garda Bhwana, Tempo, 23 December 2018
Raja Ampat youth leader Ferdinand Dimara has urged the Raja Ampat district government to continue to disseminate information about the regional regulation banning shark fishing amidst growing sentiment that shark fishing activities in the waters of Raja Ampat, West Papua continue unabated. “It requires a process of mentoring from the local government and tourism stakeholders to change the practices of local communities in accordance with the regional regulations," said Dimara, a member of the Raja Ampat Indonesian Guides Association.

Indonesia to expand security presence in Natuna Islands
— Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, 4 January 2019
Indonesia announced last month plans to expand its security presence in the Natuna Islands near the South China Sea. The development spotlights Jakarta’s ongoing efforts to upgrade and integrate its existing defense capabilities. On 18 December, an inauguration ceremony was held to mark the beginning of a new integrated military unit in the Natuna Islands. Indonesian Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto cast the development as a broader effort by Indonesia to increase its deterrence against a range of threats, including illegal fishing and transnational crimes.

Blue Star Foods founder says 3BL effort resonates with blue swimming crab buyers
— Jason Huffman, Undercurrent News, 4 January 2019
John Keeler, the founder and Executive Chairman of Blue Star Foods says the company’s two-year, technology-assisted effort to achieve a “triple bottom line” (3BL) is improving sustainability of blue swimming crab (BSC) fisheries in Indonesia and the Philippines, positively impacting the social well-being of workers and increasing sales to large-scale food service, retail and institutional buyers. Blue Star is one of the five largest players in the $600 million per year US swimming crab import industry, with thousands of employees working in processing plants in Southeast Asia. Keeler said he decided to adopt the new strategy in early 2017 after seeing how harvesters, mini-plant workers and other supply chain participants were largely excluded from the economic benefits shared by packers and importers. Systematic economic volatility and environmental degradation threaten to destroy the BSC crabmeat industry, because without seeing any long-term economic benefits, harvesters tend to view the crab merely as an extractable resource.

Forestry & Land Use

Illicit timber laundering machine
— Bagja Hidayat et. al., Tempo, 24 December 2018
The online system for reporting forest management and forest products, touted to have the power to prevent illegal logging has instead become a front for illegal logging on an even more massive scale. An eight-month investigation in Papua’s forests demonstrated that the timber legality verification system has loopholes enabling miscreants to harvest quality timber while evading taxes and laundering unauthorized timber. Bribery, collusion, and the exploitation of a vulnerable system have resulted in state losses amounting to Rp  6.1 trillion (US$432.6 million) over the last three years. In 2009, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry constructed the information system for administrative governance of forestry products (SIPUHH) to minimize the need for physical interaction between businesspeople and ministry officials, with the aim of reducing corruption. Instead, larger volumes of illegal timber from Papua now enters the global market via Surabaya. At the crux of the story is the non-independence of auditing bodies, which has resulted in rampant corruption and collusion.

Plantations engulfed in land disputes
— Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 4 January 2019
The Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) stated there had been a drop in the number of agrarian conflicts last year. But the total area of land involved in these conflicts increased from 520,488 ha in 2017 to more than 807,000 ha. The plantation, property, and agriculture sectors experienced the most disputes. KPA secretary-general Dewi Kartika said agrarian conflicts in the plantation sector mostly involved palm oil plantations. According to the latest data from the Ministry of Agriculture, there are 14.3 million ha of oil palm plantations, 7.7 million of which are owned by private corporations. In 2018,  President Joko Widodo ordered ministers and regional administrations to halt  issuance of permits for new palm oil plantations for the next three years. Dewi said the consortium appreciated the President’s initiative to sign a long-awaited presidential regulation (Perpres) on agrarian reform.

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution

Bali bans single-use plastics
— The Strait Times, 26 December 2018
Bali has taken a big step to curb pollution by enacting a ban on single-use plastic products, including shopping bags, styrofoam, and straws. Announcing the ban on 24 December, Bali Governor Wayan Koster expressed hope the policy would lead to a 70% decline in Bali’s marine plastics within a year. “This is aimed at producers, distributors, suppliers, and business actors, and individuals,” the governor said. Enforcement will be subject to a six-month grace period, but many Bali restaurants and retailers already appear to be observing the rule. Administrative sanctions will be imposed on those who did not comply, the governor said. “If they disobey, we will take action, like not extending their business permit.” It is difficult to trace the origins of the trash on Bali’s beaches, but some experts estimate that up to 80% comes from the island. Jakarta plans to follow Bali’s example by drafting a similar regulation that would prohibit single-use plastic bags throughout the capital region.

Indonesia asserts climate commitment
— Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 15 December 2018
Indonesia has re-asserted its commitment to contribute to climate change mitigation efforts at this year’s United Nations climate talks in Katowice, Poland. Speaking at the 24thConference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said:  “We can’t allow any efforts to renegotiate the Paris Agreement.” Siti’s sentiments were echoed by Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who said climate change has been a priority for Indonesia for the last several years, noting that the government has allocated US$19.9 billion to achieve the national action plan to adapt to climate change from 2016 to 2018. One sector focused on by the government is forestry, where the government had limited the issuance of new permits for palm oil plantations. Yuyun Harmono, from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, said the ministers’ statements at conference were appreciated, but noted that “the implementation of such a program across the country has been very slow.”

Government commits to increased biofuel use
— Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 8 January 2019
The government plans to further increase domestic use of biofuel in order to reduce oil imports by asking the state electricity company PLN to convert its diesel-fueled power plants into biodiesel-fueled power plants. A delivery target of 6.2 million kiloliters of biofuel has been set for this year, up 58.5% from 2018. The government will also issue a regulation allowing private biodiesel-fueled power producers to sell power to PLN. The Indonesian Biofuel Producers Association is upbeat that it can fulfill biofuel demand for power plants under a business-to-business scheme. Rida Mulyana, Director-General for Renewable Energy at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said increasing the utilization of bioenergy is one of the ministry’s priorities this year.

Power plants endanger Indonesia’s oceans
— Ivany Atina Arbi, The Jakarta Post, 12 December 2018
Indonesia’s marine ecosystem is under threat from coal-fired power plants that dump hazardous wastewater into the ocean, a new study revealed. The Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) said the government had for years upheld a regulation that allowed these power plants to discharge wastewater into the ocean at high temperatures, potentially affecting vulnerable marine biota such as plankton. Based on ICEL data, at least 15 out of 29 plants in the country are located in coastal areas, and all discharge wastewater into the sea. ICEL plans to meet officials from the Environment and Forestry Ministry to recommend a revision to existing wastewater management regulations in January. This is particularly important because the state-owned electricity company, PLN, plans to develop at least 48 new coal-fired power plants to meet electricity needs over the next 10 years.

Mountain of trash exceeds the capacity of Depok’s only landfill, poses risks
— Vela Andapita, The Jakarta Post, 29 December 2018
As a sprawling satellite city, Depok in West Java produces 800 tons of waste every day, all of which ends in Cipayung landfill, the city’s dump site, which has now exceeded its maximum capacity. Hundreds of garbage trucks go back and forth every day dumping trash collected from 11 districts, which has resulted in 20 meter high mountains of garbage. The trash hill has raised concerns over safety and fears they might collapse one day. Iyay Gumelar, the Depok Environment Agency sanitation division head, said the city has started paying more attention to the landfill as it might pose a danger to residents. The city plans to reduce its dependence on the Cipayung landfill and is currently in talks with the West Java provincial administration to operate a new landfill in Nambo, Klapangunggal district, Bogor regency. Once completed, the Depok administration plans to dump 300 tons of waste at the new site daily.

Conservation & Protected Areas

To meet conservation targets, a moratorium on mangrove deforestation is needed
— Dominique Lyons, CIFOR Forest News, 16 December 2018
Indonesia’s 3.5 million ha of mangroves and 300,000 ha of seagrass meadows store about 3.5 billion tons of carbon. The government has committed to restoring 52% of the degraded mangroves in the country, but Daniel Murdiyarso, at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), has asked that restoration and rehabilitation be accompanied by a moratorium on further mangroves deforestation. Mangrove and seagrass are more efficient than even tropical terrestrial forests in sequestering carbon. “Mangroves make up 6% of Indonesia’s annual forest loss, but an estimated 10-30% of emissions from the land-use sector could be prevented each year if [mangrove deforestation were] stopped,” Murdiyarso said, sharing photographs of pristine mangroves In Indonesia’s West Papua province and degraded mangroves in abandoned shrimp ponds on Java. “Preserving intact ecosystems is financially more effective than restoring degraded ones.” Considering the high mitigation potential of mangrove and seagrass ecosystems (~150 million tons of CO2 annually), a moratorium on mangrove conversion could generate up to US$3 billion a year in abatement costs, he said.

A development project in a Bali mangrove gets a new lease on life
— Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 13 December 2018
A controversial plan to reclaim land in Bali’s mangrove-rich Benoa Bay for a commercial development project has been revived by the Indonesian government. PT Tirta Wahana Bali International’s commercial development permit for Benoa Bay expired in August 2018. Opponents of the Benoa development plan celebrated the expiration of the permit, which they believed meant the end of the project. However, on 29 November, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries issued PT Tirta Wahana a new concession permit for development in the bay which will be valid for two more years. According to Brahmantya Satyamurti Poerwadi, the ministry’s Director General for Marine Spatial Planning, “for them to do reclamation activities, the company will have to conduct an environmental impact assessment and obtain a permit for implementation of reclamation activities.” The Bali Forum Against Reclamation says it expects Governor Koster to make good on his promise to shut down the reclamation project for good.

Is captive breeding the answer to Indonesia’s songbird crisis?
— Nadine Freischlad, Mongabay, 25 December 2018
In Indonesia, singing contests for captive songbirds have skyrocketed in popularity. Even the president is a fan. But demand for some species has made them extremely valuable and poaching has risen accordingly driving some birds to the brink of extinction. Hobbyists and scientists have both sounded the alarm. Birds aren’t just nice to look at or listen to, they’re a vital part of any ecosystem. In response, the government is pushing for captive breeding as a solution to the crisis. But some conservationists warn the policy may do more harm than good. In October last year, authorities arrested the owner of a breeding facility in Jember Regency, East Java Province, confiscating more than 400 rare cockatoos with forged documents passing these wild-caught birds as captive-bred. Jess Lee, the director of conservation at Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park, says “basic conservation theory tells you, if you don’t take the threat of poaching away, releasing birds back won’t change anything. You’re just fuelling the market.”


Indonesia’s indigenous alliance won’t endorse 2019 candidates
— Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 2 January 2019
In 2014, The Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN), which represents 2,332 indigenous communities amounting to about 17 million members throughout Indonesia, broke with precedent to endorse Joko Widodo in the presidential election. The 2014 election, decided by a margin of 6 percentage points, or 8.4 million votes, was the closest in Indonesia’s democratic history. It’s difficult to pinpoint with certainty the determining factor for Widodo’s win, but Abdon Nababan then the head of AMAN, says this voter block may have swung the outcome of the election. “At least 12 million votes were at stake,” Abdon stated. In 2014, Widodo rolled out plans to enshrine indigenous rights in six commitments. Now, with the presidential election just a few months away, AMAN has refused to endorse Widodo again, saying the president has fallen far short of the pledges he made to indigenous groups. The Alliance will also not endorse Widodo’s challenger, Prabowo Subianto.

Government fails to protect eco-activists
— Dyaning Pangestika, The Jakarta Post, 29 December 2018
In light of rampant prosecutions of environmental activists, an environmental watchdog has lambasted the government for failing to protect those who try to save nature and people’s livelihoods from destruction. In December 2018, the Indramayu District Court in West Java, found three residents guilty of desecrating state symbols after they had expressed opposition to the construction of a power plant near their homes. During a press conference at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, activists criticized the government for ignoring the criminalization of activists and neglecting its duty to protect civilians, noting that Article 66 of Law No. 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management states that persons struggling for the right to a proper and healthy environment may not be charged with a criminal or civil offense. Data from the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute shows that the criminalization of activists is common in Indonesia, with 50 activists affected in 2017. In response, the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry is preparing a ministerial regulation to protect environmentalists.

Government defends Freeport deal amid criticism
— Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 2 January 2019
The government has rebuffed criticism of its recent deal with the US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) to acquire majority shares in its subsidiary PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), which operates the Grasberg copper and gold mine in Papua Province for US$3.85 billion. Critics have asked why the deal, which was signed on 21 December 2018, was not postponed until PTFI’s current contract ends in 2021, by which time the government could simply take over the mine without paying anything. Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati defended the Freeport deal, explaining that PTFI’s previous contract of work stipulated that the government would extend the company’s contract after it ended in 2021. She acknowledged the negotiations had been challenging, but said that negotiators only had one intention, which was to “fight for the country’s interests.” Although Indonesia closed the deal, the country may need to wait another four years before it can fully benefit from PTFI’s operations.


Post Archives

2024 (10)
2023 (25)
2022 (26)
2021 (24)
2020 (24)
2019 (24)
2018 (23)
2017 (24)