February 19, 2020

MoEF: Sciencemag news report on forest fires misconceived

JAKARTA ( - The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry says that a recent news report from Science Magazine (Feb 12) undermines its own quality by making a tendentious and incorrect claim concerning the ministry’s latest version of the extent of 2019’s burned areas.

The serious error referred to by the ministry pertains to the Science Magazine’s one-sided claim that the ministry has made ‘revised estimates’ on the size of 2019’s burned areas, bringing the estimate closer to a premature CIFOR analysis.

According to the ministry, Science Magazine - which styles itself as “the world's leading outlet for cutting-edge research in all areas of science” - is attempting to frame the ministry for revising the figures.

The following is part of the Sciencemag news report criticized by the ministry: “Since then, KLHK (the ministry) has published revised estimates closer to Gaveau’s analysis (CIFOR’s premature estimate).”

“This part of the Science Magazine report shows that they don’t know how many provinces were counted in 2019’s burned areas and the period of the analysis,” said Raffles Panjaitan (Feb 17), a technical advisor to Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya.

The following are photos of a WWF ecosystem restoration concession in Sumatra’s Jambi province. This is one example of 100 concessions sealed by the ministry due to 2019’s fires. The ministry also imposed a sanction on the WWF company, compelling it to restore the burned areas within it.

Panjaitan urged Science Magazine to point out that the CIFOR estimate in question only covers 2019’s burned areas in 7 peat priority provinces until the end of October 2019, prematurely concluding that the burned areas amounted to 1.64 million hectares.

Meanwhile, Panjaitan explained, the ministry’s latest figure for 2019’s burned areas stands at 1.59 million hectares covering 34 provinces, as of the end of December 2019.

“Although our figure on the extent of 2019’s burned areas looks quite close to CIFOR’s premature estimate, the number of provinces covered by the ministry as well as the analysis period are completely different to CIFOR. What’s more, CIFOR failed to conduct any ground-checks at all,” he asserted.

In early December last year, as reported by, Indonesian forestry research authorities slammed CIFOR for the premature analysis it produced on the size of 2019’s burned areas. 

Below are photos of the PT RMU ecosystem restoration concession in Central Kalimantan province, which was also sealed by the ministry as a result of 2019’s fires. This is also one of the 100 concessions sealed by the ministry.

Controversial data

Adding to the ministry’s criticism, the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) also sent a letter to CIFOR in early December last year expressing its disappointment in CIFOR’s release of controversial data on the size of 2019’s burned areas.

The letter lamented the disturbing fact that CIFOR failed to communicate with the peat agency prior to publishing the data.

CIFOR’s Director General Robert Nasi has responded in writing to both the ministry and the peat agency, stating that: “CIFOR regrets the premature publication of a blog on the extent of fires in Indonesia that has caused concerns for the Government of Indonesia."