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 – 11: 29 May 2019

2019 Indonesian Elections
As the official count confirmed on 22 May, incumbent Joko Widodo has won the presidential election, securing 55.5% of the vote to opponent Prabowo Subianto's 45.5%, a difference of 17 million votes. Media attention has focused on the post-election riots in Jakarta last week which have been linked to Subianto’s Gerindra party. Protests have now subsided with Probowo's decision to pursue a formal challenge with Indonesia's constitutional court and pundits are now attempting to understand what Widodo’s second, five-year term will look like. Widodo’s win is being hailed by international press as a repudiation of nationalism and faith-based politics, a rejection of strongman politics, and representative of a growing cleavage between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is clear that Widodo’s priorities in the next five years will continue to focus on infrastructureeconomic reform, and improving human resources and will likely include a near-term cabinet reshuffle. A major challenge for Widodo’s second term will be finding the funds to finance such plans. With both a national trade and budget deficit, it is likely that Indonesia will mirror the Chinese model of financing these projects through state-owned enterprises (SOEs). With ambitious plans, time will tell whether he is able to achieve the above objectives while keeping promises to reform the forestry sector, and heal religious divisions.

Marine & Fisheries

The costs of poor fishery management
—  Mulia Nurhasan, Eco-Business, 13 May 2019
Indonesia’s efforts to protect its fisheries, an important food source for the world’s fourth most populous country, by seizing and blowing up foreign poaching vessels has become well known globally and is paying off. But, poaching is not the only problem the country’s intensively fished seas face. From the moment seafood is caught by local Indonesian fishers to being served on our plates, almost 40% of seafood is lost and wasted due to poor fishery management. That’s around US$7.28 billion worth of fish products annually. Indonesia wastes around 300 kilograms of food per person per year: seafood being among those deliberately thrown out. At the same time, 19 million people—or around 8% of the total population—are still undernourished. Recent data shows bad fishing practices, such as throwing away unwanted catch at sea, potentially contribute to 8.2% of Indonesia’s seafood waste and loss. Another 6% of losses are due to poor transportation and poor storage systems, 9% due to poor processing and packaging processes, and 15% due to bad distribution networks.

Illegal fishing heats up diplomatic exchanges between Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia
—  Toan Dao, Seafood Source, 14 May 2019
Diplomatic relations in Southeast Asia have been strained in recent weeks following alleged encroachments by Vietnamese fishermen in Malaysian and Indonesian territorial waters. Indonesia’s sinking of 51 foreign fishing vessels, on 4 May, came a week after a clash at sea between two Vietnamese coast guard ships and an Indonesian navy patrol ship in South China Sea. Indonesia said its ship was rammed on 27 April by the two Vietnamese ships after intercepting a boat it said was fishing illegally in Indonesian waters. Indonesia detained 12 Vietnamese fishermen from the boat, which sank in the clash. Two others were rescued by Vietnamese ships. But Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on 2 May it handed over a second diplomatic note to the Indonesian Embassy in Vietnam to oppose Indonesia’s use of force on Vietnamese fishing vessels. Vietnam has had difficulty stopping illegal fishing by its fleet, despite a ramp-up of efforts to curb the practice by its government.

A natural approach to holding back the waters
—  Fred Pearce, Yale Environment360, 2 May 2019
The Indonesian island of Java has lost 70% of the mangroves that once protected its coast from erosion and flooding. Nowhere has suffered more than Timbulsloko and a string of neighboring villages in Demak, a low-lying district on the island’s north shore. Timbulsloko was the first village to volunteer to erect long permeable brushwood structures in the hope that the deposited sediment could provide a stable base for mangrove seeds floating in the water to germinate and grow, slowly restoring the coastline. The structures are made up of two lines of vertical bamboo poles hammered 6 feet into the sea bed, with the gap between them filled by a mass of horizontal brushwood, held in place by netting. The structures are not intended to keep out the water, which washes through. Instead, their purpose is to slow the waves coming off the Java Sea so that the tiny particles of sediment carried in the water will drop down and collect on the landward side of the structure, says Femke Tonneijck of the Netherlands-based NGO Wetlands International.

Monitoring hack shines a light on fishing boats operating under cover of dark
—  Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 17 May 2019
Many of the fishing vessels operating in Indonesia’s waters at night do so undetected, masking what could be illegal fishing on a massive scale, according to a new study. Nearly 94% of nocturnal lit marine activities in Indonesia don’t use a vessel monitoring system (VMS), which tracks the location and activities of commercial fishing boats, said the researchers behind the study published 26 April in the journal Remote Sensing. Some of this can be attributed to vessels smaller than 30 gross tonnage (GT), which aren’t required under the Indonesian law to use VMS. But the authors highlighted what they called “dark vessels,” where boats larger than 30 GT, both Indonesian-flagged and foreign, switched off their tracking devices, likely to avoid detection. In Indonesia, VMS is required on boats over 30 GT, which account for 10% of the domestic fishing fleet. The researchers analyzed 2.1 million records of boat detection using low-light imaging data, and cross-matched them with VMS records of 3,600 vessels in Indonesia spanning 32 months between 2014 and 2016.

Forestry & Land Use

Indonesia issues map on lands of indigenous peoples
—    Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 29 May 2019
Back in 2015, President Joko Widodo kicked off an ambitious social forestry program aimed at distributing management of 12.7 million hectares of forests to communities through various schemes, including hutan adat (customary forests). However, activists have been lambasting the government for its sluggish progress in recognizing and granting forest tenure to indigenous people despite a historic court ruling six years ago mandating that the government recognize their tenure rights. Attempting to answer such criticism, the government has launched a map showing the current and indicative locations of customary forests across the archipelago, the purpose of which is to assist future measures to recognize indigenous people’s tenure rights. The map, the first of its kind, consists of around 472,981 ha of forest lands that have been verified by the Environment and Forestry Ministry and are in proper condition to be turned into customary forests. “By declaring lands as indicative locations of customary forests, we [will] assist regional administrations in turning certain areas into such forests,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.

Palm oil watchdog to create separate standards for smallholders
—    Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina, Reuters, 24 May 2019
A global palm oil industry watchdog is planning a separate standard for smallholders to help them adopt sustainable practices and get green certification, the Indonesian director of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) said. Indonesia is the world’s biggest palm oil producer and smallholders account for roughly 40% of the country’s 14 million hectares of palm plantations, and are often blamed for practices such as burning to clear land, causing forest fires. Independent Indonesian farmers, with land no larger than 25 hectares, will have to meet environmental and social sustainability standards, but some requirements will be adjusted soon, RSPO Indonesia director Tiur Rumondang said. Small Indonesian farmers generally suffer low productivity due to the use of poor quality palm seeds and substandard farming practices. Details of the new smallholder standards are still being discussed, Rumondang said, but among requirements that will be changed are those related to labor, since farmers managing only a few hectares of land generally get help from family members.

CSOs key to implementing social forestry in Indonesia
—    Koen Kusters, Landscape News, 21 May 2019
In 2014, the Indonesian government started an ambitious social forestry program, aiming to provide communities with legal permits to manage and use forests located on state lands. As of March 2019, around 2.5 million hectares of land were titled under the program. Edi Purwanto has been following this from up close. He is the director of Tropenbos Indonesia, which has been supporting communities with the implementation of their social forestry permits. The government has limited resources to implement the social forestry program at the village level. It therefore relies heavily on the involvement of civil society organizations (CSOs). Most CSOs focus on helping communities apply for permits. “This is all very important,” says Purwanto. “But the problem is that many CSOs end their support after a community has received its permit.” Instead CSOs should increase their focus on lobbying and advocacy. For example, the central government contributes around US $70,000 annually to the Village Fund (Dana Desa) of every village. CSOs should push for a national policy that enables community-based forest management committees to access parts of these funds, says Purwanto.

In Indonesia, a flawed certification scheme lets illegal loggers raze away
—    Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 16 May 2019
A massive series of seizures of timber from rare tree species has thrown into question the effectiveness of Indonesia’s existing mechanisms to tackle illegal logging. Officials have in recent months confiscated 422 containers packed with illegally harvested timber from the eastern regions of Papua and Maluku. None of the shipments carried valid documentation, said Rasio Ridho Sani, the head of law enforcement at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, which coordinated the seizures. Illegal logging cost Indonesia Rp 170 trillion (US$ 11.7 billion) between 2004 and 2010, according to a study by the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW). These cases provide strong evidence that Indonesia’s timber legality certification system, or SVLK, approved for timber exports to the European Union, isn’t working, says Syahrul Fitra, a legal researcher with the environmental NGO Auriga Nusantara. The SVLK system aims to track the chain of custody of timber products and ensure that timber is harvested in compliance with Indonesian law. Introduced a decade ago, it’s been criticized for its apparent shortcomings since then.

An EU ban won’t save Asian rainforests, but here’s what might help
—    Elizabeth Robinson and Herry Purnomo, The Conversation, 3 May 2019
In Indonesia, palm oil is cultivated by more than 4 million smallholder farmers, employing more than 7 million laborers throughout its supply chain. The European Parliament issued a resolution in 2017 to phase out and eventually ban biofuels made from palm oil. The proposed ban could reduce demand for palm oil, but many aren’t sure it will be effective in stemming deforestation. Indonesia might compensate for lost sales in the EU by increasing sales to large importers such as India and China. However, an EU ban could set back Indonesia’s efforts to manage its forests and palm oil trade more sustainably as these customers aren’t currently committed to sustainable sourcing. Unintended consequences like these highlight why bans can be crude policy instruments. Better approaches would target the interconnected problems of carbon emissions, deforestation and poverty. One way to do this is planting on degraded land rather than replacing forests. Demand for fossil fuels could be reduced more effectively by making public transport more accessible, affordable and reliable.

Indonesia calls on palm oil industry, obscured by secrecy, to remain opaque
—    Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 21 May 2019
Environmental activists in Indonesia have denounced a recent call by the government to keep data about oil palm plantations out of the public’s reach. Citing reasons ranging from corporate secrecy to anti-competitive practices to national security, the government issued a letter on 6 May to the country’s powerful palm oil lobby advising its member companies not to share their plantation data with other parties, including external consultants, NGOs, and multilateral and foreign agencies. The move away from transparency and toward greater opacity for an industry already widely criticized for a litany of problems marks a setback in the pursuit for sustainability, said Asep Komarudin, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Indonesia. Komarudin said the letter, which is a recommendation, might be misperceived by palm oil growers as a legal mandate, causing confusion for companies seeking to be certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). One of the requirements for sustainability certification is to publish plantation maps on the RSPO website, but plantation boundaries are among the data that the government doesn’t want disclosed.

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution

Deniers pose challenge to climate change campaign
—    Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 27 May 2019
Indonesia, as one of the biggest producers of carbon emissions, plays a crucial role in the global fight against climate change. With its lush, green environments, the world’s largest archipelagic nation has the potential to absorb and store large amounts of greenhouse gases. However, the mission to mainstream the issue faces a major challenge, as a recent survey revealed that one in five Indonesians do not believe that humans are the main driver of the climate crisis. According to a report issued by global public opinion and data company YouGov, Indonesia has the highest percentage of climate change deniers among 23 countries in a study conducted from 28 February to 26 March. Of 1,001 Indonesian adults surveyed, 18% said they do not believe human activity causes climate change. Moreover, 6% of them said human-driven global warming was a hoax and part of a conspiracy theory. Not all Indonesians, however, are turning a blind eye to the climate crisis. A quarter of survey participants from Indonesia said they believe humans should be blamed as the main driver for climate change.

Indonesia seeks secured coal access in China
—    Rachmadea Aisyah, The Jakarta Post, 28 May 2019
In an effort to secure access for coal exports to China amid a potential slump in domestic production, the Indonesian Coal Mining Association (APBI) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the China National Coal Association (CNCA) to support further trade and investment flow between the two countries. APBI chairman Pandu Sjahrir said the association was the first to sign such a MoU among the CNCA’s other foreign counterparts.
“There are so many things we have done at the business-to-business level [with the CNCA], but we want to strengthen our policy perspectives, especially regarding energy security in the two countries,” Sjahrir said. China is the world’s largest coal consumer and the largest buyer of Indonesia’s coal. In 2018, it imported 125 million metric tons of mostly low-calorie coal from Indonesia, absorbing 25% of Indonesia’s coal exports. As the world’s second-largest coal producer after Australia, Indonesian coal comprised 45% of China’s coal imports in 2018.

Gov’t to turn mineral slags into construction material
—    Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 23 May 2019
The government plans to issue a regulation on the use of mineral waste resulting from the processing of mineral products so that they will not pollute the environment. The State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Ministry’s undersecretary for mining, strategic industries and media affairs, Fajar Harry Sampurno, said the Environment and Forestry Ministry would issue a regulation stipulating that mineral waste such as slags resulting from processing nickel and copper ores could be used as raw material for the production of bricks, asphalt, concrete and cement. Mineral waste like copper and nickel slags are categorized as hazardous and toxic waste (B3), requiring special handling. The Environment and Forestry Ministry should therefore issue a regulation for using such mineral waste in the production of materials of economic value. “We will have many smelters in the future that will produce millions of tons of mineral slag. Hence, we need to come up with a way to turn it into useable products, such as for roads and building materials,” Sampurno said.

Conservation & Protected Areas

Malaysia’s last known male Sumatran rhino has died
—    Hillary Leung, Time, 28 May 2019
The last known male Sumatran rhino in Malaysia has died following a months-long battle with worsening health, National Geographic reports. The death poses a further threat to the critically endangered species of which fewer than 80 remain in the world. Just one female Sumatran rhino, Iman, is left in Malaysia. According to the International Rhino Foundation, Indonesia now holds the only remaining Sumatran rhinos — no more than 80 — in the world. Living mostly in the forests of Sumatra, the rhinos are threatened by poaching and deforestation; more than 70% of the population has been lost in recent decades.

Bukit Soeharto: This forest park in East Kalimantan could be Indonesia’s new capital
—    The Jakarta Post, 9 May 2019
After the plan to relocate the country’s capital city gained momentum, President Joko Widodo named Bukit Soeharto (Soeharto Hill) in East Kalimantan a suitable place for a new capital city. Despite the recent buzz, however, Bukit Soeharto has yet to become a household name and is relatively obscure compared to other, better-known candidates for a new capital city. The question remains: What makes Bukit Soeharto Jokowi’s unlikely favored spot? Bukit Soeharto is a 61,850-hectare forest in Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan. The location can be reached by road in about one and a half hours from Samarinda and 45 minutes from Balikpapan, the two largest cities in the province. Known as a Taman Hutan Raya (Grand Forest Park) in the province, the sprawling Bukit Soeharto is also home to local wildlife conservation groups such as the Wanariset Samboja Center of Orangutan Rehabilitation and Reintroduction. According to experts, Bukit Soeharto’s current status as a national forest park could save the government a considerable amount of money allocated for land acquisition, since the entire area is state-owned.

The Tapanuli orangutan: status, threats, and steps for improved conservation
—    Conservation Science and Practice, 17 April 2019
The Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) is the rarest great ape species on Earth. Fewer than 800 individuals remain on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where the species is declining further from deforestation and hunting. The apes are already split into three populations, and the proposed development of a hydroelectric dam on the river that connects these groups could obliterate the species. The dam construction will increase deforestation, inundate tracts of land and generate 20 kilometers of access roads and 14 kilometers of transmission lines. This will render two of the ape populations non-viable. Although the Indonesian government is proposing mitigation measures, the scientific consensus is that nothing can offset the negative impacts on the species. Indonesia seems to be facing a stark choice: a dam for energy security versus the survival of an ape species.


West Java to develop super special economic zone
—    Kornelius Purba and Arya Dipa, The Jakarta Post, 24 May 2019
With the full support of the central government, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil is determined make the province the most industrialized in the country. Its 46.5 million population and proximity to Jakarta are among the key factors that woo foreign investment to the province. His first priority is to develop a super special economic zone in the northern part of the province. Kamil named the new economic zone Rebana. It will consist of 11 special economic zones in Cirebon, Kertajati in Majalengka and Patimban in Subang. “The northern part of West Java is special because this is the only area where you have an airport and seaport within an hour of each other,” Kamil said adding that “we’re very optimistic. By end of the year, I can take this megaproject to investors in Europe, East Asia and the Middle East.” West Java is the most popular destination for foreign investment in the country. British company Plastic Energy and West Java have already signed an agreement to build five chemical recycling plants to reduce plastic pollution.

Opinion: SDGs in progress: lessons from Indonesia
—    Soumya Bhowmick, Asia Times, 28 May 2019
In September 2015, world leaders came together to form the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve globally inclusive economic progress, social development and environmental conservation by 2030. Indonesia is a shining example of not taking on the SDGs in the form of “business as usual.” It recognizes that mainstreaming the SDGs in the national development programs is crucial to achieving them. Most of the targets are linked to the national mid-tern development plan (RPJMN) that brings a confluence between the SDGs and President Joko Widodo’s nine focus areas. To drive the SDGs, the country has recently implemented two major financial programs: SDG Indonesia One and Islamic Finance, which have huge potential in bridging the SDGs budget gaps. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of National Development Planning, from the governance perspective, two aspects key to success. First, decentralization of the SDGs implementation at all levels of governance to ensure its local impact. Second, collaboration of all stakeholders, ranging from academicians to parliamentarians is crucial for the SDGs.

Waste wars pit rich West versus poor Asia
—    Simon Roughneen, Asia Times, 23 May 2019
Asian nations are increasingly up in arms about being used as Western countries’ dumping grounds. Last month, protestors at the Australian consulate in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city, proclaimed “Indonesia is not recycling bin” as reports emerged of an increase in Australian-sourced trash turning up in some of Java island’s already detritus-clogged rivers. Thailand and Vietnam have also seen increases in waste imports since China opted out, according to reports. Responding to Indonesia’s protests, Australia’s government said that the responsibility for managing waste lies with the companies involved. However, countries that export trash for recycling are being accused of passing the buck. Last month, a report by Greenpeace and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives claimed that “wealthy countries had grown accustomed to exporting their plastic problems, with little thought or effort to ensure that the plastic they were exporting got recycled and did not harm other countries.”



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