May 27, 2010 / 4:34 AM / 9 years ago

Indonesia puts moratorium on new forest clearing

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia will place a two-year moratorium on new concessions to clear natural forests and peatlands under a deal signed with Norway aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, the government said in a statement.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday witnessed the signing of an agreement in Oslo under which Norway will invest $1 billion in forest conservation projects in Indonesia.

“In the second phase of the partnership, Indonesia is prepared to suspend for two years new concessions for the conversion of peat and natural forest lands,” said the statement issued late on Wednesday after the talks.

“Sufficient non-forest lands exist for Indonesia to accommodate the growth of its vitally important plantation industries, a major source of livelihoods in Indonesia.”

The suspension would encourage the development of new plantations “on degraded lands rather than vulnerable forests and peatlands.”

Previous concessions already granted to clear forest land are likely to still be honored, since the statement only referred to new concessions.

Palm oil firms such as Wilmar and Indofood Agri Resources have big expansion plans in Indonesia, already the largest producer of an oil used to make everything from biscuits to soap.

Part of Norway’s $1 billion will be spent on creating monitoring systems and pilot projects under a U.N.-backed forest preservation scheme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

REDD allows developing nations to earn money by not chopping down their trees and preserving carbon-rich peatlands, seen as key to slowing climate change because forests soak up huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

The Oslo deal will see a new Indonesian government agency tasked with prioritizing and co-ordinating REDD projects.

“That is very important. There are conflicting claims on land and while we are having this moratorium, this agency can review those conflicts,” said a source in the REDD development industry, who asked not to be named.

A separate, additional agency will be formed “to create a national system to monitor, report and verify emissions and emissions reductions,” the statement said.

A database of degraded land will also be created.

A vast food estate planned for eastern Indonesia’s heavily forested Papua province would still be created following the announcement, Papua governor Barnabas Suebu told Reuters by telephone text message.

“But it will be in the context of this green policy,” he said. “The land that will be used for the food estate is of very low value of carbon and biodiversity.”

The Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research welcomed the deal, which they said could be “a game-changer in the drive to make REDD a reality.”

Greenpeace Indonesia called for a moratorium on all forest and peatland conversions, including existing concession permits.

Indonesia has vowed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2020, or by 41 percent with sufficient international support.

Editing by Neil Chatterjee

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