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Tell Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono to stop Aceh’s “plan to kill orangutans”

Avaaz has launched a petition to stop Aceh’s proposed spatial plan, which would involve the conversion of 1.2 million hectares of forest, “into plantation and mining areas and other purposes”.

When I started writing this post, more than 460,000 people had signed the petition. A couple of hours later and the figure has reached 522,879.

To sign the petition, and help reach the target of 1,000,000 signatures, visit the Avaaz website – or click the image below:

The message in the Avaaz petition to President Yudhoyono, Minister Hasan and Governor of Aceh Zaini Abdullah is simple:

“As concerned citizens we urge you to reject the plan to cut down protected rainforests in Aceh. Indonesia’s majestic forests are a global treasure, and we encourage engagement with the local community to develop a plan that prioritises sustainable development, and that protects this fragile ecosystem and the animals that live there.”

There is also a short message from Indonesian conservationist Rudi Putra. He won the 2013 Future for Nature award for his work in the Leuser Ecosystem on the protection of the Sumatran Rhino.

In September 2011, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s President, promised that he would “dedicate the last three years of my term as President to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia”. Given Indonesia’s history of rampant deforestation, this was an extraordinary statement. Ten years previously, the statement would have been unimaginable. And even more so, ten years before that under the Suharto regime.

But Yudhoyono’s promises are currently facing a serious challenge. The two-year moratorium on new forest concessions, part of the Indonesia-Norway US$1 billion REDD deal, is due to expire this month. The moratorium has its faults: it only applies to primary forests and it excludes existing concessions and “National development” projects. But extending it would be better than returning to business as usual.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, told The Guardian:

“Extending the moratorium for another two years in Indonesia is good news for the climate and for increasingly endangered species such as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger. Indonesia’s rainforests need protection from relentless exploitation by palm oil, and pulp and paper companies.”

Last week, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan stated that, “The moratorium will be extended. We are still discussing when it will be extended until and whether coverage will be expanded.” But, he added, President Yudhoyono has to take the final decision. “We’re waiting for the President. Wait Wait,” the Financial Times reported Hasan as saying.

Aceh’s spatial plan is awaiting Hasan’s signature. In March 2013, he announced that the spatial plan, was “almost final”. It’s difficult to understand how Hasan can simultaneously be in favour of extending the moratorium (which at least aims to protect forests) and in favour of Aceh’s proposed spatial plan (which aims to destroy a large area of forests).

It is clear that REDD projects are not going to save the forests of Aceh. Ulu Masen, which was at one time the flagship REDD project no longer exists. A spatial plan developed in a transparent manner, with the involvement of local communities, civil society and environmental NGOs could make a difference. “Where is the debate? Where is the rigorous peer review of what they’re doing?” asks Graham Usher, of the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme. Usher describes the proposed plan as a “recipe for disaster”.

A former official, who has worked with the Coalition of People Concerned for Aceh’s Forests (KPHA), points out that if you overlay all the plans for Aceh, including pulp and paper plantations, oil palm plantations, logging concessions, mining concessions and the proposed road network, the spatial plan would, directly or indirectly, allow the destruction of an area of almost two million hectares.

Sign the petition to help stop the destruction of Aceh’s forests:

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