July 13, 2018

Minister confirms GFW map inaccuracies, WRI promises corrections

( - Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has revealed that there is a high degree of inaccuracy in tropical tree cover loss data released by Global Forest Watch (GFW). This was later aggravated by the publishing of two analyses from the World Resources Institute (WRI), the substance of which is highly biased as it relies on this highly inaccurate data.

As to the WRI's willingness to correct the data errors, including its two analyses, the minister reiterated that this is the natural thing for the WRI to do because the data and analyses have misled the global public regarding Indonesia.

The minister's statement was made after she received a report based on the outcome of a joint clarification meeting on the GFW data and WRI analyses between the Ministry's Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance Director General Sigit Hardwinarto and WRI Indonesia Country Director Tjokorda Nirarta Samadhi (Jul 12) held at the ministry building.

“The WRI has used highly inaccurate data derived from GFW, which proved to be unsupported by ground-checks. It has then gone on to profile Indonesia as the third biggest country in terms of tropical tree cover loss - amounting to 1.3 million hectares in 2017 - and linked this to the issue of deforestation. This clearly constitutes misconduct in both a technical and ethical sense,” the minister chided.

Furthermore, the minister continued, GFW also claimed that Indonesia lost 1 million hectares of its natural forest in 2017. However, when asked for details of that data during the joint clarification meeting, the WRI seemed confused and even refuted the figure of 1 million hectares.

“The clarification from the WRI mentioned the figure of about 400 thousand hectares, not the 1 million hectares of natural forest loss in Indonesia in 2017, as claimed by GFW. The WRI stated in the meeting that it is willing to correct this figure,” the minister explained.  

“The WRI said that the GFW interactive map was merely an exercise. Of course I cannot accept that argument, because the impact of using the error-ridden GFW data, incorporated into the WRI analyses, has been to tarnish Indonesia,” she lamented.

The GFW data, as depicted in the maps below, shows the distribution of tree cover loss (in pink) in 2016 and 2017. These maps have proved to have a high degree of inaccuracy, based on both satellite data and the results of ground-level checks by a ministry team.

Erroneous time-series data

A second factor behind the high level of inaccuracy in the GFW's data, as exposed by Minister Nurbaya, is that this data is not based on an accurate time-series in accordance with the evidence. Again, she added, this means that the GFW data is misleading for analysis purposes, which the WRI should have been aware of.

For example, the minister explained, GFW did not map and calculate tree cover loss due to 2015's peat fires as tree cover loss in that year, but instead transferred it to 2016 tree cover loss data.

“If you refer solely to the GFW data, then it seems as if there were no massive peat fires in Indonesia in 2015. This confirms that the GFW data is not evidence-based and is inconsistent with the correct time-series,” she pointed out.

The following two GFW maps - the minister took an example from Central Kalimantan, which was one of the provinces most badly affected by 2015's destructive peat fires - indicate the shifting of evidence of 2015's peat fires to 2016. This exemplifies how the GFW data is false from both an evidence and time-series perspective. 

The minister went on to say that is not surprising that the WRI analyses proved to be totally incorrect, given that these analyses refer to the GFW time-series based data, particularly from 2015-2016, which is full of serious inaccuracies.

The first WRI analysis mentioned by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister, whose data and substance are incorrect as confirmed by the joint clarification meeting between the ministry and the WRI, is titled "2017 Was the Second-Worst Year on Record for Tropical Tree Cover Loss".

Meanwhile, the WRI's second misleading analysis is titled "Deforestation Is Accelerating, Despite Mounting Effects to Protect Tropical Forests. What Are We Doing Wrong?"

In the joint clarification meeting, the WRI also promised to correct the substance of these two analyses.