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 – 14: 10 July 2019

Marine & Fisheries

10,000 foreign fishing ships forced out of Indonesian waters: Pudjiastuti
—  The Jakarta Post, 5 July 2019
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said Indonesia has expelled some 10,000 fishing ships from Indonesian waters through her tough policy of sinking vessels operating illegally in the archipelago. She said the foreign fishing ships, most of which were larger than boats owned by Indonesian traditional fishermen and were equipped with more sophisticated fishing gear and equipment, had overexploited Indonesia’s maritime resources. The minister denied her policy had turned the domestic fishery industry stagnant, arguing that fisheries’ contribution to the Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP) had increased. Pudjiastuti said at a news conference in Jakarta that the fishery industry’s contribution to GDP grew 5.67% in the first quarter of 2019, faster than the national GDP growth of 5.07%. Indonesia’s crack down on illegal fishing began in 2015. Since then, more than 488 vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters have been scuttled or destroyed.

Switzerland gives US1.75 million to improve Indonesian seafood quality
—  The Jakarta Post, 5 July 2019
The Embassy of Switzerland in Indonesia will improve the quality of Indonesian seafood products through a three-year project called SMART-Fish II. Working in a strategic partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and in cooperation with the Indonesian Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry (KKP), the embassy aims to increase the market access for Indonesian fisheries products in domestic and overseas markets through promoting competitiveness. In a statement, the Swiss Embassy noted that the previous project, SMART- Fish I, benefited over 6,000 individuals from the private and public sector in 16 provinces across Indonesia. The project had an annual economic impact of $22.6 million through increased sales in domestic and export markets, profits, income and savings. The project encouraged over US$11.8 million in new investment by farmers, processors and the government, the embassy noted. “The SMART-Fish Program has provided a significant contribution to the national fisheries sector, particularly pangasius (a catfish species which is widely farmed), seaweed, and pole-and-line tuna,” according to Nilanto Perbowo, KKP Secretary General.

Forestry & Land Use 

Norway demands sustainability but will not ban palm oil
— Riyadi Suparno, The Jakarta Post, 1 July 2019
The Norwegian government has informed Indonesia that despite pressures from its parliament to adopt stricter measures against palm oil, the country will not ban crude palm oil and its derivatives, though it has demanded that Indonesia work toward more sustainable production. Indonesian Ambassador to Norway Todung Mulya Lubis said Norwegian officials had assured him there would be no ban on palm oil in policy nor in the newly-signed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Indonesia and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Norway is a member. Marit Vea, political adviser to the Norwegian Minister of Climate and the Environment, issued a further clarification. “This is not going to be a ban on palm oil or other crops […] because we know that the palm oil sector is important for the Indonesian economy. We know that it employs millions of people, including many smallholders,” Vea said. However, she also called on Indonesian producers to improve the sustainability of palm oil production and help protect the country’s forests and peatland.

Restoring tropical forests may be our most powerful weapon in fighting climate change
—Umair Irfan, Vox, 4 July 2019
Allowing the earth’s forests to recover could cancel out the majority of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study in the journal Science. “[Reforestation is] vastly more powerful than anyone expected,” said co-author Thomas Crowther, a professor at ETH Zurich. Since the dawn of civilization, humans have cut down 46% of all trees. Since 1990, the world has lost 1.3 million square km of forested area. Crowther and his team identified 0.9 billion ha of forest worth restoring, an area almost as big as the US. They estimate that restoring these forests could soak up an astounding two-thirds of human carbon emissions since the 19th century. Another new publication by a team led by forest ecologist Robin Chazdon published in Science Advances focused on identifying which forests would yield the greatest benefits from restoration. Their research showed Brazil, Indonesia, and India each held 50 million ha or more of “restoration hotspot” areas and received the highest scores for forest restoration potential.

Official Land Map of Customary Forests launched to a mixed reception
— Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 26 June 2019
The Indonesian government has for the first time issued an official map of customary forests, or hutan adat, defined as lands occupied or claimed by indigenous communities. The map identifies more than 4,700 square km of customary land for which current residents do not hold any title. By mapping these areas, the government can earmark them for its social forestry program, which would award formal title over the land to the indigenous and local communities that have long occupied them in perpetuity. According to Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, failure to include these lands in the official map would leave them open to competing claims from businesses and developers. But indigenous rights activists are unconvinced, saying the land recognition process for local communities remains hampered by onerous bureaucratic requirements. They’ve called on the president to issue an executive order that would abolish those requirements and speed up the process of legal recognition for indigenous communities and their land rights.

Leaving Jakarta: Indonesia accelerates plans for a new ‘green, smart’ capital
— Jack Board, Channel News Asia, 29 June 2019
When Indonesian president Suharto embarked on a journey up the coast of East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo in the late 1970s, he probably would not have imagined that those stretches of lush forest would become the home to Indonesia’s new capital city. The Indonesian government will soon announce the results of a long-awaited feasibility study into the relocation of the country’s administrative core away from Jakarta. “If we can do that, then sometime in 2020 we can do all the preparation, including the masterplan and a detailed design of the new capital," Minister of National Development Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro confirmed. “Then in 2021, all the construction activities will be started with the expectation that by 2024, we can start the first steps of the movement of the capital.” The Bukit Soeharto area in East Kalimantan is now a leading contender in what has become a bidding war between neighboring provinces.

An Indonesian forest community grapples with pressures from the outside world
— Rod Harbinson, Mongabay, 1 July 2019
Siberut Island is located in the Mentawai archipelago, a chain of 70-odd islands off the west coast of Sumatra. It is recognized as a UN Biosphere Reserve due to its outstanding cultural and ecological value. The indigenous Mentawai people’s traditions, including agroforestry and customary land tenure, have allowed the people of Siberut to live off the forest without depleting it. This rainforest-swathed island has been isolated from the rest of Indonesia for half a million years, leading to an unusually high level of endemism, with two-thirds of the animals here thought to be unique to the island. Roughly half of the island is protected as a national park. However, Siberut’s traditional lifestyles and its biodiversity are now under pressure from a spate of development projects. While the western half of the island is largely protected, the northeast has become home to a sizable timber concession and a biomass forestry concession. The central government also has plans to develop a special economic zone in the south with a highway linking it to the forest concessions in the northeast.

Indonesia has lost land equal to size of Jakarta in last 15 years
— Kharishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 7 July 2019
Indonesia is losing coastal area due to rising sea levels and unsustainable economic activities. According to a study from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry (KKP), the country loses around 1,950 hectares of coastal area annually due to erosion. Over the last 15 years, this has added up to a loss of 29,261 ha of coastal area, about the size of Jakarta. In terms of provinces, the three most affected regions are Central Java, East Java and Southeast Sulawesi. While rising sea levels due to climate change have become a factor in land loss, environmental damage has also made the coasts more vulnerable. Wahyu Budi Setiawan, a researcher with the Center of Oceanography Research at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said local factors might play more of a role in erosion than global factors. “While the rise of sea levels due to global warming might have contributed to erosion in some regions, a disruption in the local coastal landscape will have a bigger role in worsening the phenomenon,” he said.

Energy, Climate Change, & Pollution 

Fastest-growing market Asia rethinks coal’s prospects
— Melanie Burton and Fransiska Nangoy, Reuters, 4 July 2019
After riding China’s seemingly insatiable demand for coal for nearly two decades, the Indonesian coal industry is now looking toward other smaller markets and slimmer returns as the world’s second-biggest economy reduces coal imports and climate change concerns blunt demand. By far the world’s biggest user of coal-fired power, China is importing less thermal coal as renewables gain market share and as domestic producers dig up more of its own supply. Indonesia, the world’s biggest exporter of thermal coal, shipped 429 million tons last year, accounting for 43% of the billion ton annual seaborne market, according to Australian government data. Around 124 gigawatts of new coal-fired power capacity is under development in Southeast and South Asia, both key markets for Indonesia, which is expected to partially offset declining demand from China, according to Pandu Sjahrir, the chairman of Indonesia Coal Mining Association. Indonesia’s demand for coal for power plants is expected to grow by some 50 million tons a year from now until 2023, he said, an increase of 55% which will make the country one of Asia’s biggest coal consumers.

Indonesia’s coal giant ventures deeper into renewable energy
— Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman, The Jakarta Post, 30 June 2019
PT Adaro Power, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s second-largest coal producer PT Adaro Energy, has kicked off its third pilot project in renewable energy, estimated to be worth up to US$5 million this year, as part of the firm’s mission to prove the viability of its green energy business. Adaro Power vice president Dharma Djojonegoro said that the project would include the development of 100-kilowatt (KW) peak off-grid solar panels in five regencies in Papua Province under a joint venture with two companies, one of which is a Hong Kong-based corporation. “We expect the project, which is still just a feasibility study, to be finished within six to 12 months. We will install off-grid solar panels for 10 to 15 villages, equivalent to around 300 to 500 households,” he told a press briefing. “Once we have the proof of concept […] we will scale it up for 10,000 to 20,000 households,” he said. As every two houses will be powered by a single solar panel, the cost of electricity will be lower than that provided by diesel fuel generators.

Southeast Asia starts to dump single-use plastics
— Jun Suzuki and Marimi Kishimoto, Asian Review, 1 July 2019
Governments and businesses in Asia's emerging economies are trying to reduce plastic pollution in an effort to burnish their green credentials. The issue came up at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, where global leaders agreed that marine plastic waste is a serious issue and pledged to take "concrete" steps to tackle the problem. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia—the only Southeast Asian G-20 member—said he wanted to bring up the mounting problem of plastic waste at the meet. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for 60% of improperly disposed of and/or mismanaged plastic waste, according the nonprofit research organization Our World in Data. Indonesia will implement a trial ban on plastic bags from July in Bali prior to full-scale implementation in other parts of the country later this year. Indonesia's Asia Pulp and Paper has developed paper for use in making specially coated biodegradable containers such as cups. The company plans to make the material commercially available in 2020.

Indonesia’s parliament delays approval for levy on plastic bags
— Maikel Jefriando and Tabita Diela, Reuters, 3 July 2019
Indonesian members of parliament have decided to delay confirmation of a government plan for a levy on plastic bags, but the finance minister said she was optimistic the legislation was on track to be adopted this year. The archipelago of 17,000 islands churns out 9.85 billion of the bags each year, making it the world’s second biggest contributor of plastic pollutants in the oceans, Sri Mulyani Indrawati told members of parliament. She proposed excise duties starting from US$2.12 (IDR 30,000) for each kilogram of plastic, or 200 rupiah per bag, saying she hoped the measure would cut the number of plastic bags Indonesia used and the waste it produced. “The right fiscal instrument to reduce a tendency to consume something dangerous is an excise duty,” Indrawati said. First introduced by the government in 2016, the plan for the levy has been delayed several times because of opposition from plastic producers.

Jakarta residents sue Indonesia government over air pollution
—, 4 July 2019
Residents of Indonesia's capital filed a lawsuit against the government over the toxic levels of air pollution which regularly blanket the city. Jakarta has been shrouded in hazardous smog for much of the past month, with high concentrations of harmful microscopic particles in the air. Fed up with what they say is worsening air pollution, a group of 31 concerned residents have sued President Joko Widodo, as well as the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Ministry of Health, and Jakarta's governor. The plaintiffs—which include activists, office workers and motorcycle taxi drivers—want to raise awareness about the issue and force the government to act. "[The government) has neglected people's right to breathe healthy air," lawyer Nelson Nikodemus Simamora told reporters after filing the lawsuit. "They have not maintained air quality at a level that is healthy enough for the ten million people living here." Toxic smog saw Jakarta ranked as the most polluted city in the world for several mornings running in June.

Drowning deaths at disused mines in Indonesia renew calls for action
— Yovanda, Mongabay, 4 July 2019
Activists have lambasted the seemingly apathetic official response to the recent drowning of two children in abandoned mining pits in the Indonesian Bornean city of Samarinda. The pits have long been a hazard for residents of Samarinda and nearby areas which form part of Indonesia’s coal heartland. There have been thirty-five drownings in the rainwater-filled pits over the past eight years, with children making up most of the victims. Under Indonesian law, mining companies are responsible for filling in and re-greening their former mining sites once mining operations are completed, but this obligation is frequently flouted, with deadly consequences. Officials say the victims and their families are to blame. This response has angered local activists, who have demanded stronger enforcement of regulations requiring mining companies to fill in and restore their disused mining sites. An audit has shown that most mining companies simply don’t comply. And with few consequences or liability for the deaths, there seems little incentive for the companies to change their practices.

Conservation & Protected Areas 

Indonesia to welcome back endemic snake-necked turtles 
—    The Jakarta Post, 30 June 2019
Indonesia is scheduled to receive a number of snake-necked turtles from Singapore. The turtles are members of a critically-endangered species that is endemic to Rote Island in East Nusa Tenggara, but which can no longer be found in its natural habitat in Peto Lake on Rote. The “repatriation” will be conducted through a reintroduction program run by the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program and Wildlife Reserve Singapore. Some 26 individuals bred in the US and Austria are now being kept in the Singapore Zoo. However, how many of the turtles will be sent back to their ancestral home and natural habitat is still under negotiation, Timbul Batubara, the head of the East Nusa Tenggara Resource Conservation Center (BBKSDA) said. The species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list and is categorized as critically endangered.

Search for a new home for Javan rhinos put on hold 
—    Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 2 July 2019
Indonesia has put on hold plans to establish a second habitat for the Javan rhinoceros beyond the single site on the planet where the critically-endangered species still lives. An estimated 68 Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) live in Ujung Kulon National Park, on the western tip of the island of Java. With the entire species crammed into the 1,230 square km (475 square mile) park, conservationists and government officials have been considering the idea of establishing a second habitat to mitigate the risk of catastrophe from disease or natural disaster for decades. The task of finding a second home for the rhinos gained urgency after a tsunami struck the coast near Ujung Kulon last December, killing two park officials but leaving the rhinos unharmed. However, the top contender for a second habitat is currently being used as a military training ground, leaving conservationists forced to find ways to expand suitable habitat for the rhinos somewhere within the national park.


Indonesian president to overhaul cabinet amid trade fallout
—  Karlis Salna and Arys Aditya, Bloomberg, 4 July 2019
Indonesian President Joko Widodo will announce a major overhaul of his cabinet aimed at firing up Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, but the reshuffle is likely to be delayed until October. Under the current plan, which could change, several key ministers are set to be dropped, including State-Owned Enterprise Minister Rini Soemarno, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti and Minister of Energy Minister Ignasius Jonan are also set to lose their cabinet posts while Widodo is also seeking to scale down the dominance of state-owned enterprises in major projects, the person said. The person noted that the changes are aimed at boosting coordination in a bid to push through reforms and help Indonesia’s economic growth expand beyond 5%. Still, much could happen in the coming months as the behind-the-scenes horse trading over cabinet posts continues.

2019 ASEAN summit: outcomes for Indonesia
—  Jarryd de Haan, Future Directions, 26 July 2019
Thailand recently hosted the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.The theme of the summit was advancing partnerships for sustainability. For Indonesian President Joko Widodo, however, most of the tangible results of the summit came from sideline meetings with other world leaders. One such meeting was with Duterte over maritime boundaries, during which both leaders announced the completion of the exclusive economic zone boundary ratification process. Ratification documents for the agreement are expected to be exchanged in August. Clearly-defined boundaries will help to avoid complications arising from Indonesian or Filipino nationals illegally fishing in the other country’s territorial waters. Another notable outcome of the summit was the formal adoption of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which was initially proposed by Indonesia. The significance of that adoption is, however, questionable, as it is still only an evolving five-page outline of ASEAN’s approach to the Indo-Pacific at this stage.

Indonesia to send back 49 containers of trash to developed countries
The Straits Times, 3 July 2019
Indonesia will return 49 containers of plastic garbage to countries such as the United States and Germany, an official said on 3 July, amidst a regional pushback on illegal trash imports. "The containers have been sealed and are ready to be returned, pending shipping schedules," said a spokesman for Indonesia's customs department, Mr. Deni Sujantoro. Last month, the government returned five containers of such trash to the United States after they were found to contain banned materials. More plastic trash from industrialized countries has found its way to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries after China stopped importing waste from abroad last year in an attempt to curb pollution. But countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are now saying that they do not want to be dumping grounds for trash either. Environmental groups in Indonesia are urging the government to tighten regulations on imports of plastic trash, saying the garbage is harming the environment. In 2018, Indonesia imported 320.4 million kg of plastic waste, up from 128.8 million kg from the previous year, according to the Trade Ministry.

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