Indonesian govt ministers at odds over peatland haze policies


Divisions have started to appear between Indonesian government ministries over how to tackle peatland fires that have caused choking smoke to spread across much of Southeast Asia.

Indonesia and the wider Southeast Asian region have been suffering for weeks from so-called "haze" caused by smouldering forest and peatland fires, largely in Sumatra and Borneo islands that climate officials described as a crime against humanity.

Green groups welcomed the Indonesia's environment and forestry ministry's decision late last month to review laws that allow smallholder farmers to burn. It has also asked plantation firms to halt peatland conversion, restore burnt areas, while banning planting on burnt peatland.

Contradicting this, however, Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman said on Monday, 100,000 hectares of burnt peatland in Kalimantan may now be used to plant corn and soybeans, according to Kontan newspaper.

"We will ask for peatland that has already been burned to be converted into agricultural land," Sulaiman was quoted in the newspaper, adding that the development should be led by local people and state-owned enterprises.

Sumardjo Gatot Irianto, director general of agriculture tools and infrastructure in the agriculture ministry, said on Tuesday he was not aware of any plan to plant on burnt peatlands in Kalimantan.

But Greenpeace Indonesia told Reuters it was concerned about Sulaiman's comments and urged President Joko Widodo to stick to his moratorium on developing peatlands and avert fires next year.

"We strongly support the (peatlands) commitment by the president," said Teguh Surya, forest campaigner at the environmental group. "The president has to call the minister of agriculture to stop the plan to plant corn."

Last week, a smallholder palm oil group said that forest fires would again flare up next year because the government was yet to issue any new regulations relating to forest clearing.

Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest tropical forest and Widodo is due to attend the U.N. climate summit in Paris in December where he is expected to outline the country's pledges for tackling climate change.

The Southeast Asian nation is the world's fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases mainly due to the "slash and burn" techniques to clear forests that blanket Singapore, Malaysia and northern Indonesia in a choking "haze" for months each year.

(Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Government Draws Up Blueprint for Restoration of Peat Forests
Basten Gokkon Jakarta Globe 17 Nov 15;

Jakarta. The Environment and Forestry Ministry plans to complete Indonesia’s landmark blueprint for nationwide restoration of burned peat areas as part of the government’s mitigation and prevention efforts following the worst fires in recent memory.

“My office is taking on the biggest task in forming the framework [for peat restoration] and I will try to finish it in the next two or three days so I can discuss it with the National Development Planning Agency [Bappenas] and the chief economics minister,” Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar told reporters at a discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The restoration plan, which is set for the next five years, will include a map showing all peat ecosystems, delineated into conservation or agricultural zones. It also establishes a peatland management task force to build and monitor canals to restore water to peat areas, and draws up technical guidelines for cultivation in peat areas to prevent damaging the carbon-rich soil.

Although the plan has not yet been finalized, Siti said the government had already commenced restoration efforts in four locations badly hit by the forest fires this year: Meranti district in Riau province, Ogan Komerling Ilir and Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, and Pulang Pisau district in Central Kalimantan.

M.R. Karliansyah, the Environment Ministry’s director general for environment pollution and damage control, said the government’s restoration efforts would take place largely on burned peat areas for conservation, which account for some 141,000 hectares of the 1.7 million hectares of burned area in the country as of Sept. 30.

“We want to focus heavily on restoring the water-rich peat domes in order to reduce the possibility of them catching fire,” Karliansyah said.

Asked about funding for the peat restoration efforts, Siti said the bulk of it would come from the state budget, with the rest coming from commitments by foreign countries and organizations.

She added that four parties had pledged to support the government’s peat restoration efforts, including the United States, Norway and the World Bank.

“The efforts will be conducted by the central government, not regional ones. So people shouldn’t worry about transparency or corruption,” she said.

Indonesia recorded one of its worst fire seasons this year, with daily carbon dioxide emissions from the forest fires alone exceeding the total emissions from US economic activity on several days.

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