in Indonesia, Norway

Per Fredrik Pharo: The “hopes raised for the future of Indonesian peatland management” are “very encouraging”

Yesterday REDD-Monitor wrote about the fires this year in Indonesia and the lack of any response from Norway. The post featured a comment from Per Fredrik Pharo, Director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative that Indonesia’s peatland management was “very encouraging”.

I asked Pharo how he could describe anything to do with Indonesia’s peatland management, which this year once again led to an environmental disaster, as “very encouraging”. Here’s his reply in full:

    From: Per Fredrik Pharo
    Date: 3 December 2015 at 23:42
    Subject: SV: Indonesia’s fires in 2015

    Dear Chris: With ‘very encouraging’ I was referring to the hopes raised for the future of Indonesian peatland management by president Jokowi’s recent statements on the remedies needed. I would have hoped that was clear from the context, but I hope this suffices as a clarification. Sincerely, per

Actually the reason I asked Pharo about his comment was because it wasn’t at all clear from the context.

So Pharo describes the “hopes raised for the future” as “very encouraging”. Now we know that the Norway-Indonesia deal isn’t based on learning by doing – it’s based on hopes for the future.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with hope. But Pharo could at least acknowledge that five years of Norway’s US$1 billion REDD deal has so far done nothing to improve Indonesia’s peatland management.

Jokowi in Paris

In Paris at COP21, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, said,

“As a country with one of the largest forest areas acting as the lung of the world, Indonesia is here today as part of the solution. My government is developing Indonesia in a way that is giving due attention to the environment.”

Jokowi will establish a Peatland Restoration Agency, to restore peatland damaged by the fires. And he asked for US$3.6 billion to restore peatlands in Indonesia.

Jokowi is optimistic about getting the money. Antara reports him as saying:

“Judging by the results of our bilateral meetings, several countries will help us handle environmental problems through renewable energy, peatland restoration, and forest conservation.”

But Jokowi did not announced a much-awaited new presidential instruction on peatland and fires, leading journalist David Fogarty, writing in the New Straits Times described Jokowi’s speech in Paris as a missed opportunity.

Before leaving for Paris, Jokowi told reporters that,

“We will later announce real actions to which we will commit. This will include peat restoration, a review of existing permits and a moratorium [on issuing new permits for development on peat].”

According to,

[T]he president plans to enforce a moratorium on all new development on peat soil, claw back plantation licenses on peat where development has yet to begin and block hundreds of thousands of kilometers of canals used to drain the marshes for planting.

Are Indonesia’s proposals really “very encouraging”?

There are at least three reasons to be concerned about Indonesia’s peatland management proposals:

  1. There remains a question about whether Jokowi issues a presidential instruction or a presidential regulation. Only the latter would be legally binding, but would need to be approved by Indonesia’s Parliament. Is Jokowi prepared for a confrontation with the country’s legislators?

    And even if Jokowi pushes through binding legislation, what are the chances of the law being upheld and enforced?

    A week before Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo, left for Paris, environmental journalist Warief Djajanto Basorie asked Jokowi about Indonesia’s plans for 20,000 MW of new coal-fired power plants, given the urgency of climate change. He also had a question for him about oil palm plantations and the fires:

    Mr. President, you have ruled that there are to be no new permits and that there is to be no more opening of new land for peat conversion to oil palm and timber plantations. Your environment and forestry minister has stated that the state will restore over burned land. However, in Tangkiling, Central Kalimantan, on soil where the peat fire has been doused, oil palm seedlings have been planted. Can you explain the law enforcement mechanism here?

  2. A few days before he flew to Paris, Jokowi was in Kuala Lumpur for the 27th ASEAN summit. On the sidelines of the summit, he witnessed a signing ceremony between Indonesia and Malaysia for the establishment of the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries.


    One of the aims of Council is to pressure companies to drop their no deforestation commitments.

    Reuters reports that Indonesia’s chief natural resources minister Rizal Ramli told parliament,

    “Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to harmonize and combine our two standards. This is an example of how to fight for our sovereignty. We are the biggest palm oil producer. Why (should) the consumers from the developed countries set the standard for us as they want?”

  3. And while Jokowi may have said nice things about forests in Paris, Indonesia still plans to clear 14 million hectares of “degraded forest” by 2020 to establish oil palm plantations.

    PHOTO credit: Burned peatland and forest remains, planted with oil palm seedlings, near the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary west of Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. Ardiles Rante/Greenpeace.

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