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 – 16: 7 August 2019

Marine & Fisheries

Minister Susi tells fishermen to maintain sustainable way in catching crabs
—  Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post, 30 July 2019
Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti praised the sustainable way fishermen in Demak regency, Central Java caught crabs by using bubu (fish traps) as they allowed undersize immature crabs to escape. Susi, who was in Betahwalang subdistrict, Bonang district, Demak, to participate in the Sedekah Laut ritual with local fishermen, called on fishermen to maintain their environmentally friendly fishing practices. Susi said the price of the Rajungan (blue swimming crab, Portunus armatus) caught with bubu were between Rp 75,000 and Rp 90,000 per kilogram higher than those caught with arad (mini trawls), which fetched Rp 70,000 per kilogram. “Indonesia is the world’s third-largest crab exporting country, with the US as the biggest destination,” Minister Susi noted, calling on fishermen to maintain their wise ways of catching crab amid the high demand for the commodity as it was in line with the efforts to conserve the species. Statistics from 2005 to 2014 showed that the waters around the island of Java accounted for 46.6% of total crab production, the most in Indonesia.

Reef fish are faring fine in eastern Indonesia, study suggests
—  Julia John, Mongabay, 31 July 2019
The coral reefs of the lesser Sunda-Banda seascape in southeastern Indonesia host some of the planet’s most biodiverse marine ecosystems, which remain relatively untouched even as overfishing ravages sea life to the country’s west. New research suggests reef fish inhabiting understudied sections of the lesser Sunda-Banda are doing well overall in terms of species present and total numbers. “This study seems to be the first assessment ever of all species of consumable reef fishes for this area in peer-reviewed scientific literature,” said Hawis Madduppa, head of the Marine Biodiversity and Biosystematics Lab at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), who was not affiliated with the study. The paper, published in IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science, intends to inform reef management in the far-flung lesser Sunda-Banda seascape, which lies in the Coral Triangle, a vast region of the western Pacific that’s home to the highest diversity of corals and reef fishes anywhere on the planet.The researchers propose turning one area in Southwest Maluku, Indonesia, into a marine protected area.

Fisherfolk bear brunt of oil spill amid long recovery
— Arya Diap, Ardila Syakriah, and Kahrishar Kahfi, The Jakarta Post, 7 August 2019
Environmental recovery efforts following the recent oil leak from state energy giant Pertamina’s Offshore North West Java (ONWJ) Block may take more than six months, officials have said, as residents have reportedly begun to bear the brunt of the damage. Initial reports showed that the oil spill had only affected 11 villages in Karawang and Bekasi, West Java, and seven beaches in the province, but the Thousand Islands administration said on Friday that the spill had reached seven of its southern islands on 22 July. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said the government and Pertamina would need at least six months to conduct environmental recovery efforts in the affected areas. West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil ensured that Pertamina would take full responsibility for the recovery efforts, which he said included employing affected residents to help clean up the waters so they could still earn an income. The oil spill has reportedly contaminated residents’ salt, shrimp and milk fish farms, leading to lower or even no production at all as farmers and fisherfolk are forced to halt their activities.

Forestry & Land Use

Indonesia fights fires in palm-growing regions to prevent deadly haze
—  Yoga Rusmana and Eko Listiyorini, Bloomberg, 30 July 2019
Indonesia is stepping up efforts to prevent a repeat of haze that blanketed much of Southeast Asia four years ago by deploying thousands of firefighters and emergency response teams in its main palm oil- and rubber-producing regions. Authorities have declared a state of emergency in some provinces after detecting 84 hot spots. More than 9,000 personnel from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, the military, police, environmental groups and private companies, have been deployed to combat the fires so far this season. An estimated 11.8 million hectares of land across the archipelago are experiencing an unusually dry season this year with the livelihoods of 48.5 million people at risk, according to Coordinating Ministry of Human Development and Culture. Provincial governments of Riau, South Sumatra, West, South and Central Kalimantan have declared a state of emergency to deal with the fires.The government has already warned of risk to its rice crop from the long dry spell that’s expected to last until October.

Malaysia calls on Asean to fight haze as Indonesia battles forest fires
—  The Straits Times, 6 August 2019
Malaysia will call on Asean member countries to take proactive measures to avoid transboundary haze during a two-day meeting in Brunei. In a statement, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry said Malaysia wanted concerted efforts taken in accordance with the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze ratified by member countries. Deputy Minister Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis, who will lead the Malaysian delegation, will submit reports on the measures needed to avoid open burning and haze. In 2015, raging fires in Riau and other parts of Sumatra spawned choking haze that blanketed parts of Singapore and Malaysia. The ministry noted that the Klang Valley comprising capital city Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas, the southern part of the west coast of the peninsula and the west coast of Sarawak were currently slightly shrouded in haze as forest fires have raged in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Ethical wood body warns Indonesian palm oil firm over forest clearing
—  Michael Taylor, Reuters, 25 July 2019
An international green certification body said Indonesian member firm Korindo Group breached its rules on clearing forests to grow oil palm but would not be expelled after a two-year probe. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the main global scheme for sustainable wood-based products, this week rejected accusations by Mighty Earth, a U.S. green organization, that Jakarta-based Korindo deliberately and illegally set fires to clear land in North Maluku and West Papua in 2015. The FSC did, however, find that Korindo had converted forests to establish oil palm plantations in Indonesia, destroying trees with a high conservation value. Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest area of tropical forest, but is the fifth-largest emitter of the greenhouse gases widely blamed for global warming, largely due to deforestation. To maintain its FSC membership, Korindo must uphold a moratorium on forest conversion and deforestation in Indonesia, and achieve FSC certification in all its forestry operations, while complying with rules on indigenous peoples’ rights, an FSC spokesman said.

Government lacks ‘strong’ measures against palm oil barriers
—  Rachmadea Aisyah, The Jakarta Post, 5 August 2019
The government is lacking in strong measures to fight tariff barriers implemented by several palm oil export destinations, including India and the European Union, according to Joko Supriyono, chairman of the Indonesian Oil Palm Association. The country’s number one export commodity continues to face criticism over sustainability, such as deforestation issues raised by the eurozone, and has been hurt by trade barriers from its major importers, including India. “The international demands over our palm oil sustainability have become so complex and are no longer purely addressing the sustainability issue itself, so we have to push our campaigning and lobbying efforts [...] and use trade instruments to resolve trade barriers at the international level,” President Widodo said at a palm oil seminar recently. He criticized the lack of bilateral trade agreements between Indonesia and major palm oil importers as a limiting factor in the country’s competitiveness. India is the largest market for Indonesia’s palm oil with 6.71 million tons of products exported there in 2018, followed by the EU, China and Pakistan by 4.78 million, 4.41 million and 2.48 million tons, respectively.

Indonesia could fund sustainability certification for palm smallholders
—  Business World, 5 August 2019
Indonesia plans to adopt a new oil palm sustainability regulation that would give greater support for smallholders seeking to obtain sustainability certificates, according to Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs Darmin Nasution. Under the new regulation, the government will fund the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification process for smallholders. The new decree, which needs the president’s approval, is being finalized and set to be issued later this year, Nasution said. The government will also invite professional participants to join the ISPO committee, which is currently dominated by government officials, said Musdhalifah Machmud, Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs.

Millions of hectares of forest land to be redistributed
—  Ardila Syakriah, The Jakarta Post, 29 July 2019
The Environment and Forestry Ministry has identified 2.48 million hectares of a targeted 4.1 million ha of forest areas that could be redistributed to citizens under the government’s land objects for agrarian reform scheme, a step activists deem long overdue. The identified areas are spread out across 130 regencies and cities of the country’s 22 provinces. The ministry said it was in the process of forest delineation and awaiting a review from the national agrarian reform team — a team helmed by the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister and comprising various ministers and leaders of state institutions. “We have to speed up. By the end of 2019, we have to reach the target of 4.1 million hectares,” the ministry’s director for forest planology and environment order Sigit Hardwinarto said. Of the identified areas, 1 million ha are “existing land” already inhabited and used by citizens as their livelihood — a large portion of which is located in West Kalimantan, South and Central Sulawesi.

Energy, Climate Change & Pollution

Indonesia investigates oil spill in Java Sea by state energy company
— Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 31 July 2019
A newly drilled oil well operated by Indonesian state-owned energy company Pertamina has been spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the sea and the northern Java coast for three weeks now. The spill is believed to have been caused by a pressure imbalance in the well bore at Pertamina’s Offshore North West Java block on 12 July. The company says it has deployed 30 boats, 3,500 meters of offshore oil boom, 3,000 meters of shoreline oil boom, and 700 meters of fishing net to contain the spill. It also says it has scooped up 17,830 sacks of oil-contaminated sand. The well was still leaking oil as of 31 July, according to an environment ministry official. “It’s still in the emergency phase,” Rasio Ridho Sani, the ministry’s head of law enforcement, told reporters on the sidelines of an event in Jakarta. “[Pertamina] has to stop the spill and we have no idea when that will happen.”

Southeast Asia sends back heaps of trash to rich countries
— Jun Endo, Nikkei Asian Review, 30 July 2019
Southeast Asian nations have begun to turn away smuggled waste to the countries of origin, with Indonesia and Cambodia following in the footsteps of Malaysia and the Philippines. Indonesia will send eight containers of paper trash back to Australia after finding them mixed in with electronic waste and other dangerous materials, officials at Tanjung Perak Port in East Java told local reporters. Officials at Batam port say they are also returning 49 containers of waste to countries such as the US, France and Germany. The crackdowns are fueled by growing public concerns about the potential environmental and health risks. In June, Jakarta sent back to the U.S. five containers labeled as "paper waste," but which also included plastic, rubber and diapers. Indonesia will "not hesitate to return illegally shipped waste," Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar said.

In Indonesia, a court victory for Bali’s ban on single-use plastics
— Basten Gokkon, Mongabay, 26 July 2019
A ban on single-use plastics on the Indonesian island of Bali will stay in place, after the country’s top court rejected a challenge by the plastic-recycling industry. Last December, the Bali provincial government rolled out a regulation calling for a prohibition on the use of plastic bags, straws and styrofoam, in an effort to combat the plastic waste littering the island. While the ban was widely welcomed, the Indonesian Plastic Recyclers Association filed a legal challenge in March with the Supreme Court, arguing the policy would harm manufacturers and recyclers of single-use plastics, as well as the trash pickers who make a living from scavenging plastic waste. But in its ruling on 23 May, which was only published 9 July, the Supreme Court rejected the challenge. It said the ban, which came into effect on 2 July, did not violate Indonesian laws. The ruling potentially paves the way for other local governments around Indonesia to impose their own bans on plastic.

Electrifying Indonesia’s last stretch is tough work
— Made Anthony Iswara, The Jakarta Post, 31 July 2019
In the corner of a house of West Nusa Tenggara’s (NTB) Kwangko village in Dompu regency on the island of Sumbawa, 35 year-old Anti kneels to place a dozen water-filled plastic bottles in her refrigerator. Once frozen, the bottles of ice will be sold to passing fishermen. For Anti and 103 families in the village, the refrigerator embodies the electric power which first came to the village 18 months ago, helping fishermen conserve their fish better as their wives earn an income by selling ice. “It took us five years to get good electricity,” Syaiful said. Kwangko village and over 1,000 villages in Sumbawa, NTB, have enjoyed the fruits of extensive electrification in recent years. Despite closing in on the finish line, the last few kilometers to achieving electricity provision in rural areas have been tough, regional state electricity firm PLN officials said. PLN planning manager for Sumbawa, Firman Sulistyawan, said high production costs had bogged down electricity supply expansion in Sumbawa’s rural areas. With a population scattered around the island packed with mountaintops and non-asphalted roads, PLN regional manager Hamzah said the firm had a tough time installing the necessary infrastructure.

‘More complete’ policy on climate change needed: LIPI
—  The Jakarta Post, 30 July 2019
The government needs to establish climate change adaptation laws to address environmental issues such as land subsidence and rising sea levels, the nation’s leading scientific body has said. Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Laely Nurhidayah said the prevailing law did not “comprehensively” address the climate issue and the government should consider the implications on social justice and human rights. “The government needs to establish a new policy to cope with environmental as well as human rights issues, because climate change has significantly impacted local communities in coastal areas, particularly those whose livelihoods depend on coastal resources,” Laely said. LIPI’s research shows that land subsidence and rising sea levels are the two key problems facing communities on Java’s northern coast, particularly in Central Java’s Semarang municipality and Demak regency. Urban studies expert Hendricus Andy Simarmata of the University of Indonesia (UI) said that the government should reconsider its policy on building sea walls and planting mangroves along Java’s northern coast, which only solved short-term issues and might be a time bomb that could worsen environmental problems.

Conservation & Protected Areas

In dragons versus tourists fight, Indonesian villagers to lose out
— Rina Chandran, Reuters, 31 July 2019
Thousands of residents of an island in eastern Indonesia are resisting a government plan to relocate them and close the island next year in a bid to conserve rare Komodo dragons. About 2,000 people would also be moved off the island, and risk losing their homes and livelihoods, said Gregorius Afioma, director of human rights group Sunspirit for Justice and Peace. “These are people who had already lost their land to the park, and suffered as authorities prioritized tourism. Now they will lose again,” he told Reuters. “They have not benefited much from the tourism boom, and with the relocation they will be isolated even more, despite evidence that local people help conservation efforts.” Globally, there is a growing awareness - and backlash against - the negative impacts of tourism, from environmental damage to the destruction of neighborhoods as local residents are priced out. Poorer countries in Southeast Asia are particularly ill-equipped to limit the “invisible burden” of overtourism, according to a report earlier this year from The Travel Foundation charity in Britain.


Interview: Indonesia leader to speed reform in final term
—  Stephan Wright and Karin Laub, Associated Press, 27 July 2019
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in an interview with The Associated Press that he will push ahead with sweeping and potentially unpopular economic reforms in his final term, including a more business-friendly labor law, because he is no longer constrained by politics. In a wide-ranging interview, Widodo outlined his priorities for his second term, including continuing large-scale infrastructure projects and simplifying a cumbersome bureaucracy. He said labor laws will be overhauled in what will be a politically challenging decision to attract more investment and create more jobs. “In the next five years I have no political burden so in making a decision, especially important decisions for the country, in my opinion it will be easier,” he said during a tour of Jakarta. “Things that were impossible before, I will make a lot of decisions on that in the next five years,” said Widodo.

Fears over Indonesian president’s demand for unfettered investment
—  Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay, 22 July 2019
Environmental activists say they fear for what’s left of Indonesia’s tropical rainforests, following a fiery call by President Joko Widodo threatening action against anyone hindering investment in the country. The president’s speech on 14 July, his first major policy projection since winning re-election, emphasized opening up the country to investment and development to boost growth. “No one should be allergic to investment,” Widodo said. “This is how we create as many jobs as possible. Therefore, anything that obstructs investment must be trimmed, such as slow or complicated permit processes, especially illegal levies. Be careful, going forward I guarantee that I will chase, I will control, I will check and I will beat [them] up if necessary! There should no longer be any obstructions to investment because this is the key to creating more jobs.” The language used has raised concerns among environmental and indigenous rights activists, who say there are plenty of justifiable reasons to oppose or at least slow down development projects that involve the clearing of forests and customary lands.

Indonesia’s leader says sinking Jakarta needs giant sea wall
—  Fadlan Syam and Stephan Wright, New York Times, 27 July 2019
Indonesia's president said in an interview that he wants to see the speedy construction of a giant sea wall around Jakarta to prevent the low-lying capital from sinking under the sea, lending renewed backing and a sense of urgency to a slow-moving and politically contested mega-project. President Joko Widodo and his government are up against a tight timetable, including a forecast by experts that at the current rate, one-third of Jakarta could be submerged by 2050. The existential crisis facing the city is the culmination of decades of unfettered development, almost nonexistent urban planning and misrule by city politicians who have served private interests over those of the public. Lacking a comprehensive piped water network, industry and homeowners have tapped into the city's aquifers, causing rapid subsidence in northern Jakarta, home to several million people.Widodo told The Associated Press that it's time to move ahead with the sea wall, a project the government first began to consider a decade ago.

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