By: Our Correspondent

Although Indonesian President Joko Widodo extended Indonesia’s partial forest-clearing moratorium on the day of its expiration, environmentalists and civil society groups are unsatisfied, saying the policy should have been strengthened and extended.

Activists have mounted a national campaign under the banner “Strengthen the Forest Moratorium” (Perkuat Moratorium Hutan!) but their calls, street-corner rock concerts and tee-shirted presence have had little resonance with a presidential office beset by political intrigue and mounting economic problems.

As Asia Sentinel reported on May 8, in the past year, 1.6 million hectares of Indonesian forest were lost, most of it burned for oil palm plantations, although primary forest – virgin timber – loss declined to an average of less than a million hectares per year between 2011 and 2013. The World Resources Institute said the decline was probably due to the continuing moratorium on issuing new licenses for forest conversions, a significant decline in agricultural commodity prices, corporate zero-deforestation commitments and the sad fact that most accessible forests have already been cleared.

There is deep concern about the direction Jokowi is going to take. The rest of the world is watching Indonesia because of its role as one of the world’s greatest “green lungs” along with Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, sequestering carbon dioxide in its forests

At present, the partial moratorium bans new industrial concessions in primary forest and on peatland, exempts secondary forest and existing concessions and makes exeptions for “national development” projects – geothermal, oil and gas, electricity, rice, sugarcane – as well as any concession Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya’s ministry chooses to allow.

Not far enough

Greenpeace and its allies had wanted the president to do away with those exceptions and bring all forest and peatland under the moratorium’s protection. 

“Of course we are disappointed with the president for simply extending the previous policy with no significant change,” Greenpeace campaigner Teguh Surya told Mongabay-Indonesia, a major environmental NGO. Teguh said he is dubious about the ministry’s promise to follow up, given the problems of coordination among the various arms of government. It wouldn’t make much difference, Teguh said, “unless the president himself leads discussions to change the strength” of the moratorium.

There are serious concerns about Jokowi’s commitment to stopping forest degradation. Earlier this year, he dissolved the National Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Agency (BP REDD+), a cabinet-level body with the primary role of slowing deforestation, and merged it with the Environment and Forestry Ministry, which is regarded as deeply corrupt. 

Citra Hartati, a researcher from the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, said the government needs to do more than “copy-paste” the old policy. “The question is whether it’s the same as before,” she said. “Don’t let the moratorium be compromised.”