On 20 October 2014, Indonesia inaugurated its new president: Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. The following day, Jokowi wrote to the House of Representatives with a list of proposed changes to ministries. Jokowi is proposing merging the Environment Ministry and the Forestry Ministry.
There is little doubt that reform of the governance of Indonesia’s forests is urgently overdue. Many hope that Jokowi, who is the first Indonesian president to be elected from outside the military and the political elite, will implement precisely that sort of reform.
UPDATE – 26 October 2014: Siti Nurbaya is Indonesia’s new Minister for Environment and Forestry.
The proposed merger could be a sign that Jokowi is serious about improving the management of Indonesia’s forests, particularly if he appoints a progressive Minister.
The impact on REDD in Indonesia could be interesting, as it could prise some control of forest land from the Forestry Ministry – control that the Ministry jealously guards.
For example, when Indonesia created its REDD+ Agency in September 2013, Hadi Daryanto, the General Secretary of the Forestry Ministry, announced that the Agency would not have any power:
The REDD+ council will not be able to take any actions. The council only has the power to report on emissions reduction projects and any program irregularities to the related ministries. It is then up to the appropriate ministry take action.
Marginalising the environment?
The proposal to form a new Environment and Forestry Ministry was not welcomed by Greenpeace. Longgena Ginting, Greenpeace Indonesia’s chairman, told the Jakarta Post that,
“This idea of merging is worrying because the Environment Ministry could become a part of the portfolio of the Forestry Ministry, as the first’s roles and authorities are smaller and more limited than the Forestry Ministry.”
As well as forestry, the Environment Ministry currently considers issues such as air and water pollution, fisheries, irrigation, land management, mining, and infrastructure. “The plan might marginalise environmental issues,” Longgena notes.
WALHI (the Indonesian Forum for the Environment) also opposes the merger. WALHI’s chairman, Abetnego Tarigan, told the Jakarta Post,
“Amid the paradigm of exploitation in our country, combining exploitation and conservation authorities into one body does not guarantee balanced decision making. The paradigm is influenced by the point of view that conservation is costly while exploitation is a source of income to the state.
One problem is that currently the Environment Ministry is supposed to monitor the activities of the Forestry Ministry. Merging the two raises the question of conflicts of interest, within the same ministry. “No one will assume the watchdog role in the future,” Abetnego said.
WALHI prefers keeping the two ministries separate, but strengthening the Environment Ministry.
AMAN (the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago) is demanding that the Forestry Ministry be disbanded.
Threats to the forest continue
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s forests face continued threats. Mining companies BHP Billiton and PT Adaro are planning to develop a coal mining complex covering a total of 350,000 hectares in Central and East Kalimantan. PT Adaro estimates that there are 1.27 billion metric tons of coal in the area.
The protesters also targeted the University College London for accepting £6 million from BHP Billiton for its Institute for Sustainable Resources. No really. The company whose operations look like this (the Cerrejón mine in Colombia), is funding an Institute for Sustainable Resources:
Simon Lewis, from the Department of Geography at UCL told The Guardian,
“When I heard BHP Billiton is the founding funder of UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources, I didn’t believe it. It sounds like the environmental equivalent of a tobacco company sponsoring an Institute for Cancer Research. BHP Billiton mines enormous quantities of coal, a fossil fuel that needs to be phased out if international agreements to limit climate change are to be adhered to.”
Flora and Fauna International apparently has no such qualms. In 2010, FFI accepted nearly US$2 million for a conservation project in Murung Raya district of Central Kalimantan.
UPDATE – 27 October 2014: Headline updated to reflect the fact that Jokowi has now merged the Environment and Forestry Ministries, not just proposed it (which was the case on 25 October 2014 when this post went out).