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 – 3: 6 February 2019

Marine & Fisheries

President Jokowi to Minister Susi on capture fisheries licensing: Don’t drag things out
—    Translated, Tempo.Co, 30 January 2019
At a meeting with the Capture Fisheries Receiving Fishery Business Licenses (SIUP) and Fishing License (SIPI) Agency, President Joko Widodo said that he expects capture fishery industries to continue to grow now that illegal fishing has been effectively eliminated in Indonesian waters. During his first term of office, the president added, from 7,000 to as many as 13,000 foreign fishing vessels were brought under control, and 488 vessels were sunk. “What does this mean?  [It means] that we should have abundant production of fish and other marine products.” The president checked with Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti regarding whether there was a [subsequent] increase in fisheries production, and there was a small increase. “Is it that the number of vessels is now significantly reduced, or that [the process of application for] permits is difficult and drawn out? That is what I would like to find out… I don’t want the licensing process to take weeks, let along months or years.”

Microfinancing for fishers needs to be encouraged
—    BM Lukita Grahadyarini, translated, Kompas, 4 February 2019
The Public Service Agency for Marine and Fisheries Capital Management (BLU-LPMUKP), an institution aimed at distributing business capital in the form of micro-financed loans to fishers and fishery supply chain actors, was originally launched in late 2017. However, the dispersal of micro-financing loans remains limited. Data released by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries indicates that BLU-LPMUKP distributed US$23.9 million (Rp 333.4 billion) of loans in 2018, amounting to 25% of the available funds. Riza Damanik, the chair of the Indonesian Traditional Fishermen Association (KNTI), said that the microfinancing scheme needs to be socialized amongst fishers and fishery entrepreneurs through the use of fishery extension officers emphasizing the need to “open cooperation as broadly as possible with fishing organizations to increase implementation efficiency.”

Bylaw offers hope to fishermen
—    The Jakarta Post, 30 January 2019
The administration of Central Java is deliberating a draft bylaw that would “protect” local fishers by providing access to technology and financial assistance to increase catches. Without elaborating on the details, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo said the bylaw would empower fishers to improve their livelihoods. “We must improve the lives of fishermen. They should not just go out to sea to hunt fish. We must ensure that they can catch fish [efficiently],” Pranowo said, adding that fishers running small-scale operations needed to be equipped with the appropriate technology and skills including marketing skills to boost their productivity and eventually their income. “[The bylaw] will offer a solution or mechanism to allow them to get the capital they need,” Pranowo said. The Association of Indonesian Fishermen chairman Riyono welcomed the deliberation of the draft bylaw, saying it was an important tool to protect small-scale fishing operations.

Forestry & Land Use

Funds tripled and target slashed, but Indonesia still off pace for reforestation
—    Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 25 January 2019
Efforts to reforest land that has suffered critical degradation from mining, logging, and agriculture, have fallen far short of targets. In 2013, the Indonesian government calculated the extent of degraded land to be restored by 2030 at 243,000 km2, but less than 1,000 km2 of critical land was rehabilitated between 2015 and 2018. Reforestation was intended to be one of the government’s key tools for achieving its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 29% of the business-as-usual scenario in its Nationally-Determined Contribution (NDC) to the UN Framework Commission on Climate Change (UNFCCCP) by 2030. Environmental activists question how the government determines what land that needs to be restored. Even President Joko Widodo appears baffled at the glacial pace of reforestation. “Year after year we exhaust our budget [to plant trees], but where are the trees? Can anyone show them to me?” he said during a tree-planting ceremony in central Java in 2017.

Study focuses on peatland conservation and management
—    Yuli Savitri, The Jakarta Post, 1 February 2019
The government has initiated research into developing peatlands as agricultural lands and conservation areas, following years of plantation companies and farmers use of slash-and-burn methods to clear peatlands for cultivation. The country experienced its worst forest fires in 2015, which caused US$15.8 billion (Rp 221 trillion) in economic losses [and generated more than a billion tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions]. The South Sumatra Peatland Restoration Team (TRGD) will focus on four areas for development as peat management and research centers. Forestry and climate change expert Daniel Murdiyarso of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia, said the peatland studies must be planned well and should focus on abandoned peatland areas that have become sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Is deforestation in Borneo slowing down?
—    Barbara Fraser, CIFOR Forest, 15 January 2019
Are old-growth forests actually being razed to make way for oil palm and pulpwood plantations, or are plantations being established on land that was cleared for other purposes in the past? A recent study using satellite images revealed that 3.74 million ha (Mha) of old growth forest in Indonesian Borneo and 2.29 MHa in Malaysian Borneo were lost between 2000 and 2017. Over the same period, Indonesian Borneo gained 4.35 Mha and 1.85 Mha of industrial plantations, respectively. In 2017, forest loss and plantation growth slowed dramatically in both parts of Borneo. More than 40% of total forest loss in Borneo in 2015 and 2016 was caused by Indonesian forest fires, and in recent years, small-scale plantations are likely also playing an increasing role in deforestation, though the study was unable to quantify this. Overall, the authors say their study shows grounds for “cautious optimism” about progress in slowing deforestation in Borneo.

Palm oil is not the only driver of forest loss in Indonesia
—    Science Daily, 1 February 2019
In the past, large-scale plantations were responsible for more than half of Indonesia’s loss of primary natural forests and while oil palm plantations remain a major cause of deforestation in Indonesia, their impact has diminished proportionately in recent years as other natural and human causes emerge, according to a new Duke University study. From 2014 thru 2016, on average more than 800,000 ha of primary forest was lost annually, but large-scale plantations accounted for only 25% of that deforestation, said Kemen G. Austin, who led the study. "Logging is still driving deforestation [in Papua], but oil palm industry and El Niño-driven fires are the primary drivers on Sumatra and Kalimantan." Small-scale farming, previously overshadowed by plantation-scale agriculture as a driver of deforestation, was found to play a bigger role, also accounting for about one-quarter of all forest loss. This suggests the importance of designing forest-management interventions that take the values and requirements of small-holder farmers into account too, said Austin.

Kalimantan highway and railway projects are the world’s scariest environmental threat
—    Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 4 February 2019
In 2014, President Joko Widodo committed to a number of infrastructure projects, including the construction of a new highway and railway in Kalimantan. The roads construction began in 2015, but concerns have been raised by researchers calling such infrastructure projects “the world’s scariest environmental threat.” A new joint study warns that the completed highway and railway “will fragment and destroy vast areas of tropical rainforests on the island.” “Even if the new road and rail projects only affect a 1 km buffer on either side, landscape connectivity across the region would decline sharply from 89% to 55%,” the report said. Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar dismissed the report, noting that the projects fulfilled all requirements, including nature conservation. “Basically, we can study all aspects of the construction and look for the solution” Siti said, adding, “these things can be managed, because it is impossible for Indonesia [to develop] if we don’t build more roads.”

Environmental degradation exacerbates Indonesia flooding, landslides
—    Wahyu Chandra, Mongabay, 30 January 2019
Following days of torrential rain in South Sulawesi province which killed at least 68 people and forced thousands to flee their homes, local authorities and activists are blaming the degraded condition of the region’s rivers and watersheds due to farming and mining for amplifying the scale of the disaster. South Sulawesi Governor Nurdin Abdullah said one of the main causes of the flooding was the heavy silting in the Bili-Bili River from upstream deforestation. While there is no question the heavy rain triggered the floods and landslides, the intensity of the disaster was likely due to the degraded state of the region’s watershed and environment in general, activists said. Muhammad Al Amin, Executive Director of the local chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Wahli), said the Jeneberang watershed had been drastically degraded by mining activities, calling on the authorities to review extractive projects throughout the watershed and close down those operating without permits.

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution

Green Climate Fund unlocks $100m in funding for geothermal development in Indonesia
—    Alexander Richter, ThinkGeoenergy, 25 January 2019
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) announced that its board of directors has approved a first tranche of US$100 million to finance public and private sector geothermal development in Indonesia. Limited availability of suitable financing instruments that adequately address the early stage risks of geothermal resource confirmation ha been a key barrier to geothermal development in the country, according to the Fund. This first tranche, part of a multi-year support facility, will mobilize $410 million with contributions from the World Bank, the Government of Indonesia, and private sector developers. The full project will mobilize US$706 million to support exploration and resource confirmation for 1 to 1.5 GW of geothermal capacity. A key innovation in the financing package is the use of convertible bonds that will enable private sector geothermal sponsors to mitigate the exploration risk while providing an adequate upside in case of success. The Indonesia geothermal project promises to help increase the share of renewables, which currently account for only 12.5% of the country’s electric power generation.

Indonesia to challenge ‘discriminative’ EU directive on palm oil
—    Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy, Reuters, 31 January 2019
Indonesia intends to challenge an EU directive on renewable energy at the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing the plan will unfairly target palm oil, according to Mahendra Siregar, special staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The world’s top producer of palm oil is also reviewing its relation with the EU over the issue. The directive, known as RED II, which aims to stop the use of crops that cause deforestation in transportation fuel by 2030, identifies palm oil as a “high risk” crop, indicating its potential to cause deforestation. Red II is expected to be issued in early February. Environmentalists blame a rapid expansion of Indonesian oil palm plantations for the massive clearance of forests that were home to endangered tigers, orangutans, and elephants. The EU accounted for around 15% of Indonesia’s total palm exports of more than US$15 billion last year. In January 2018, the WTO ruled in favor of Indonesia on several challenges to anti-dumping duties the EU had imposed on its biodiesel exports.

Dam project to continue amid environmental concerns
—    Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, 2 February 2019
Construction of the Batang Toru hydropower plant in Tapanuli Selatan regency has continued despite the threat of lawsuits and concerns for the “last 800” of the Tapanuli orangutans. PT North Sumatera Hydro Energy (NSHE), operator of the hydropower plant (PLTA), which aims to open the 510 MW plant in 2022, called the project a “green investment” to help the country achieve its renewable energy targets. The PLTA would flood a small area in the Batang Toru river and would create a dam that closed river flow for just 18 hours and then allowed it to open for 6 hours to move the power turbines. The project became controversial after dozens of international scientists wrote open letters to President Joko Widodo last year, calling on the government to stop the project because it threatened the lives of Tapanuli orangutans. Last November, Minister of the Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said the government believed the dam would have little impact on the orangutans.

Indonesia’s love-hate relationships with coal
—    Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 28 January 2019
Indonesia remains highly dependent on coal as a source of electric power. In 2018, coal-fueled electricity constituted 60.5% of the country’s total energy supply, according to government data. Coal has also played a major role in boosting state revenue, contributing 10% of the total national non-tax revenue in 2018. Given coal’s positive impacts on state revenues and the affordability of electricity, the 400 million ton annual coal production targets set in the 2015-2019 National Medium-Term Development Plan have been surpassed each year. State-owned electricity firm PLN anticipates that coal-fueled electricity will continue to constitute more than 50% of its power supply well into the future. “Our energy policy is simple,” explained PLN president director Sofyan Basir. “We will shut down expensive power supplies in favor of the cheapest options. It is logical.” However, some experts say the increased coal production is a setback for Indonesia, which had committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 29% by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.

Freeport’s waste disaster
—    Bagja Hidayat et al, Tempo [English], February 2019
After shelling out US$ 3.58 billion (Rp 55.8 trillion) to Freeport-McMoran to acquire its 51.2% controlling share in the Freeport Mine, the Indonesian government now must deal with the massive environmental damage caused by improper management of tailings, or mining wastes, funneled into four major rivers in Papua since 1995. According to the Supreme Audit Agency, the losses from this damage amount to US$13.2 billion (Rp 185 trillion), not including damage to marine life at the estuaries of the four rivers that run into the Arafura Sea, nor the loss of customary forests and the changes to Papuan society and culture. The government made a concession to Freeport-McMoran by not making waste cleanup a condition for the transaction; now it must bear all the consequences. The environmental road map agreed between Freeport and the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry must be thoroughly implemented.

Conservation & Protected Areas

Bali set to tax tourists in a bid to preserve the island’s environment and culture
—    Antonia Wilson, The Guardian, 25 January 2019
Authorities in Bali are preparing to introduce a tourist tax to help tackle pollution and waste management on the island. A new bylaw has been drafted that includes a US$10 (Rp 140,000) fee for overseas visitors to the island. Governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, has said that revenue from the tax would go towards programs that help preserve the environment and Balinese culture. The popular tourist destination saw nearly 5.7 million visitors in 2017 (mainly from China and Australia), and numbers will continue to rise, according to the national tourism ministry. Koster remains optimistic about visitor numbers, despite the tax. “Tourists will understand. They will be happy to pay it as it will be used to strengthen our environment and culture,” he said. He also stated that the tax would only apply to international tourists and not domestic visitors. How the levy will be collected is still to be confirmed; it could be added to an airline ticket price or paid on arrival at the airport.


Opinion: Government withdraws its plan to release Abu Bakar Ba’asyir from prison
—    Tempo [English], 29 January 2019
Just two weeks after President Joko Widodo confirmed the announcement by one of his campaign officials that convicted terrorist Abu Bakar Ba’asyir would be released from prison “on humanitarian grounds,” the Indonesian government was forced to back down, citing the 80-year old Muslim cleric’s refusal to sign an oath of allegiance to the principles of Pancasila, Indonesia’s multi-faith national ideology. Ba’asyir had been convicted twice on terrorism charges, once for his involvement in the Bali bombing in 2002, and then again in 2011 when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for planning and mobilizing training for a terrorist group in Aceh. Leaders of foreign countries reportedly questioned the decision to release Ba’asyir, while discussions on social media platforms suggested that significant numbers of voters might be unwilling to vote for Widodo’s re-election. Everyone knows that terrorism still poses a serious threat to the nation. It is deplorable to make light of the danger of terrorism for the sake of electoral interests.

Eka Tjipta Widjaja, founder of the Sinar Mas Group (1921 – 2019)
—    Harry Suhartono and Fathiya Dahrul, Bloomberg, 26 January 2019
Eka Tjipta Widjaja, who became a coconut and palm oil trader at the age of 15 before going on to build a multi-billion dollar empire spanning paper, pulp, palm oil, real estate and financial services died in Jakarta at the age of 98. The founder of Sinar Mas Group was Indonesia’s fourth richest person, with a net worth of US$9.3 billion. Widjaja, then known as Oei Ek Tjhong, landed at Makassar in Indonesia’s Sulawesi province as a seven-year-old with his parents from mainland China. He started out selling biscuits and sweets by bicycle, Sinar Mas Group said. The tycoon overcame a major setback in 1998 when the Asian financial crisis led to a US$14 billion default by his flagship company, Asia Pulp & Paper Co., but Widjaja managed to restructure his debt and rebuild the empire, which employs around 380,000 people in Indonesia.


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