Towards the Environmental Policy that Overcomes Deforestation in Indonesia

Essay 2015 10 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Environmental Policy



The deforestation has become a prolonged problem haunting Indonesia. Despite some efforts have been done by the government, the forest fires and illegal logging still take place in Indonesia. The policy makers are urged to formulate the new policy that can protect the environment and human beings. This paper will explore four approaches to overcome the deforestation in Indonesia. The first approach, command and control might be effective in eliminating the corrupt practices. The second approach, network approach will be suitable to address the deforestation caused by the palm oil companies. The third approach, incentive scheme will hamper the excessive timber extraction. Lastly, the information disclosure approach will help increase the public awareness about the deforestation in Indonesia.

Keywords: policy, deforestation, Indonesia, palm oil, pulpwood, timber, command and control, network approach, incentive, information disclosure

Indonesia, a tropical archipelago with more than 17,000 islands, has 187,840.9 million ha land area that consists of 47.8 % or 89,768.9 million ha non-forest area and 52.2% or 98,072.7 million ha forest area.[1] Located on the equator, Indonesia has many tropical rainforests that contain the largest diversity of living organisms on Earth. Besides its unparalleled richness of biodiversity among the world's ecosystems, by containing far larger numbers of species per area relative to the other ecosystems, the rainforests are also our largest carbon sinks that absorb greenhouse gases (GHG) more than the other ecosystems. This richness, however, has been destroyed mostly because of the conversion of rainforests to the oil palm, pulpwood and timber plantations.

A study led by researchers at the University of Maryland found that Indonesia has lost over 6 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2012. During the final year of the study, in 2012, Indonesia lost 840,000 hectares of forest, while Brazil that committed reducing its deforestation only lost 460,000 hectares. This number is different with the estimation made by Indonesia Ministry of Forestry which estimates 0.40 Mha annual forest loss from 2009 to 2011.[2] Another data from different source mentions that between 1990 and 2010, Indonesia had 1.02% deforestation rate per year equals to 1,205,650 ha forest area loss per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Indonesia is claimed to have lost 20.3% or 24,113,000 ha of its forests.[3] Despite this disputable Indonesia’s deforestation rate data, those conceptions have captured the big environmental problems in Indonesia.

The forest fires happen every year in every dry season in Indonesia. In fact, since August 2015 up to October 2015, Indonesia struggled with the widespread wildfires in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo) islands triggered by some private companies to clear the rainforests and peatlands for the new plantings. At that time, the smoke reached not only Singapore and Malaysia, the two countries that always get impact from the wildfires in Indonesia, but also Thailand and Philippines. The smoke increased the rates of respiratory illnesses and caused the schools to close and flight delays as the air quality index reached the hazardous level.[4]

If we look back to the history, Indonesia indeed has a bad reputation about the deforestation. In 1997, a devastating wildfire swept Indonesia and caused between 500,000 and 1,000,000 hectares of forest and bushland burned. At that time, the smoke that blocked the sun for weeks spread to Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand and caused 200,000 people to get medical treatment by October 1997 due to the smoke exposure to their respiratory systems.[5] Unfortunately, 18 years after that tragedy, Indonesia is still struggling with the same problem.

The deforestation has made Indonesia lose many of its endangered species such as orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The deforestation also has contributed to over half of Indonesia’s greenhouse gases emission.[6] This happened mainly because, in order to make the new plantations the palm oil companies will clear the rainforests by cutting down the trees, draining and then burning the peatlands that majorly cover up the rainforests in Indonesia. The peatland is considered as the most efficient carbon sink on earth by storing 15% up to 30% of the total carbon on earth.[7] Therefore, by only taking into account the last forest fires, Indonesia has released 1.62 billion metric tons of CO2 and lifted its position from the sixth largest GHG emitter to the fourth largest GHG emitter in the world.[8]

From this fact, it is clear that the forest moratorium has been set in 2011 does not work in slowing down the pace of deforestation in Indonesia. Environmental activists argue that the corrupt politicians that selling the rainforest lands to the palm oil, timber and pulpwood companies and the weak law enforcement in Indonesia are the major causes of this issue. It is indicated that the governors, regents and mayors where the plantations are cultivated oftentimes get advantages for their silent reaction to the forest fires.

Many reports and studies have shown the strong involvement of palm oil companies in the forest fires in Indonesia. Carlson et al (2013) found a 278% expansion in oil palm plantation development in Kalimantan from 2000 to 2010 and by 2020 the full lease development will convert 93,844 km2 forest areas to be the oil palm plantation.[9] Further, in this paper, Carlson et al exhibit the increasing trends of the carbon emission from oil palm plantation in 1990 to 2020 coming from the land clearance practice.

Indonesia, that has pledged to contribute in reducing greenhouse gases emission together with the other 191 parties committed to Kyoto Protocol, needs to take a fundamental change in its environmental policy altogether with a stronger law enforcement that prevents the recurrence of this environmental havoc. This is a huge challenge for the policy makers in Indonesia, as this country is one of the largest oil palm producers in the world and home for major pulpwood and timber companies. The problem becomes more complex as the world’s demand on palm oil and wood products is also growing at a rapid pace.

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that extracted from the oil palm fruits. The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is a tree that originates from West Africa. This plant is a tropical plant that only grows in the land with high humidity and stable high temperature. This characteristic has made the rainforest areas as the most suitable areas to cultivate the oil palms.

Besides its function as the cooking oil, the palm oil is widely used in the food and non-food industry. This is due to its physical properties that ensure the texture, scent, and taste of the end products. Moreover, compared to the other vegetable oils like soybean, rapeseed, and coconut oil, the palm oil is still the winner for its cheap price. We can find the palm oil products in almost every product we use in a daily basis, range from the margarine, cookies, chocolate, ice cream, candy, detergent, soap, shampoo, cosmetics and biofuels.

This fact has become a major concern for the environmentalists as the increase in the palm oil demand will stimulate a more aggressive conversion of rainforests to oil palm plantations and further destroy the natural habitat of the plants and animals that live in the rainforests. The conversion also can lead to the soil erosion and accelerate the climate change as the new oil palm plantations have always triggered the forest fires in Indonesia. Besides its impact to the climate change and biodiversity, the palm oil is also perceived as the cause of some diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.[10]

The WWF predicts that in 2050 the worldwide palm oil demand will increase into 240 million tons as the number of population increases and countries like China and India become wealthier and use more palm oil products.[11],[12] This means there will be more rainforests need to be converted into the oil palm plantation in order to meet the demand. The palm oil production in Indonesia itself has increased enormously from only 157, 000 tons production in 1964 to 33 million tons in 2014.[13] Palm oil accounts for 11% of Indonesia's export earnings of $5.7 billion in 2012 and will continue to increase as the government plans to produce 40 million tons of palm oil by 2020.[14],[15]


[1]. Ministry Of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia. The Fifth National Report of Indonesia to the Convention on Biological Diversity. 2014. (accessed Nov 14, 2015).

[2]. Margono, Belinda Arunarwati, Potapov, Peter V., Turubanova, Svetlana, Stolle, Fred & Hansen, Matthew C. Primary forest cover loss in Indonesia over 2000–2012. (Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2014). (accessed Nov 14, 2015).

[3]. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/deforestation/2000/Indonesia.htm (accessed Nov 14, 2015).

[4]. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-24/indonesian-haze-reaches-the-philippines/6881564 (accessed Nov 15, 2015).

[5]. Dauvergne, Peter. The Political Economy of Indonesia’s 1997 Forest Fires. 1998. (accessed Nov 15, 2015).

[6]. Eyes on the Forest, et al. Indonesia’s Legal Timber Supply Gap and Implications for Expansion of Milling Capacity: A Review of The Road Map for the Revitalization of the Forest Industry, Phase 1. 2015. (accessed Nov 15, 2015).

[7]. Hugron, Sandrine; Bussières, Julie; Rochefort ,Line. Tree plantations within the context of ecological restoration of peatlands: practical guide, pp. 7. 2013. Université Laval, Québec. (accessed Nov 27, 2015).

[8]. http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/10/latest-fires-crisis-indonesia-surpasses-russia-world%E2%80%99s-fourth-largest-emitter (accessed Nov 21, 2015).

[9]. Carlson, K M et al. Carbon emissions from forest conversion by Kalimantan oil palm plantations. Nature Climate Change Vol 3. 2013. (accessed Nov 21, 2015).

[10]. Mancini, A.; Imperlini, E.; Nigro, E.; Montagnese, C.; Daniele, A.; Orrù, S.; Buono, P. Biological and Nutritional Properties of Palm Oil and Palmitic Acid: Effects on Health. 2015. (accessed Nov 15, 2015).

[11]. http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/ (accessed Nov 27, 2015).

[12]. http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/ (accessed Nov 27, 2015).

[13]. http://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?country=id&commodity=palm-oil&graph=production (accessed Nov 27, 2015).

[14]. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/11/indonesia-palm-oil-destroy-forests (accessed Nov 14, 2015).

[15]. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/03/11/indonesia-government-addresses-deforestation-challenges-in-its-aim-to-double-palm-oil-production-by-2020.html (accessed Nov 14, 2015).


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deforestation Indonesia palm oil pulpwood timber command and control network approach incentive information disclosure environmental policy




Title: Towards the Environmental Policy that Overcomes Deforestation in Indonesia