April 2, 2019

Return to planned deforestation should make EU think twice

JAKARTA ( - President Joko Widodo undertook a substantial legal reform in September last year by signing an order imposing a moratorium on palm oil expansion, including a ban on the granting of new palm oil permits, thereby protecting millions of hectares of good forest cover in previously planned deforestation areas.  

This move, which prevented the deforestation of millions of hectares of high carbon stock (HCS) forests, merits widespread appreciation, especially from the European Union. 

The President’s palm oil expansion moratorium order, which changed planned deforestation areas into unplanned deforestation targets, suspended most of the processing for the granting of new palm oil permits involving areas of good forest cover. 

In light of this, the EU should weigh up how much new deforestation of HCS forests will be avoided due to the shift from planned deforestation areas to unplanned deforestation targets, thanks to the President’s freeze on palm oil expansion for at least the next three years.

The majority of the shift from planned deforestation to unplanned deforestation will affect West Papua and Papua provinces, halting the previously planned conversion of intact forests on the island into palm oil expansion targets.

The following Google Earth images represent HCS forests in five new palm oil permits issued before the President’s order was signed. This order means that no new palm oil permits will be issued in West Papua and Papua involving HCS forests such as these. 

The recently-adopted EU delegated act could have a boomerang effect if it ultimately causes the lifting of the President’s palm oil expansion moratorium in HCS areas, resulting in a shift back from unplanned deforestation areas to the former planned deforestation targets. 

Not about market access

This purpose of this news report is not to highlight concerns about restricted market access to Indonesia’s palm oil for biofuel use due to the EU delegated act.

Instead, it seeks to shed light on the consequences of the potential lifting of the Presidential order underlying the palm oil moratorium in reaction to the EU delegated act.  

The Google Earth images below portray HCS forests in one new palm oil permit in the province of Papua (PT SMA) that was granted before the Presidential order took effect. These HCS forests can still avoid deforestation if the President’s order is not lifted.

Even though the evaluation of good forest cover in existing concessions has been delegated to provincial governments by the forestry authorities, the President’s order, which bans new palm oil expansion in areas of good forest cover in existing concessions, remains in effect. 

However, if the President’s order is lifted there would be no other law-based instrument for preventing new deforestation of HCS forests spread among existing concessions, such as those in the five new palm oil permits in West Papua and Papua provinces.

Order issued despite resistance  

The President’s order on the palm oil expansion moratorium did not come about easily. In fact, the issuance of the order was preceded by a significant struggle of around two years given that the majority of palm oil players were upset by its substance. 

Nevertheless, the President eventually decided to sign the order despite the huge opportunity costs involved in turning millions of hectares of HCS forest areas planned for deforestation into unplanned deforestation targets.

Before making any rash moves, EU countries should really reflect on the courageous efforts and political risks taken by the President with his palm oil expansion moratorium order which was aimed at ending massive levels of new deforestation, specifically impacting West Papua and Papua’s HCS forests.