Illegal logging and other environmental security concerns in Indonesia

Updated On: Jul 17, 2007

Illegal logging is a very serious environmental problem in Indonesia and the region, involving wide ranging stakeholders, which include government, local villagers, military, timber and pulp and paper companies, as well as illegal logging financiers and traders usually from the neighboring countries.

A report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in 2002 said that 70% of total timber and log production in Indonesia is logged illegally.

Having been dubbed as the world’s largest environmental crime, illegal logging is not merely an environmental problem; it is linked to socio-economic aspects of the people living close to the forest area and the corruption and collusion scandal backed by the military and influential people. Domestic as well as international demand for cheap raw materials helped drive the forest destruction in Kalimantan and Sumatra. According to some reports, Malaysia is the biggest “importer” of Indonesia’s illegal logs. Malaysian and also Singaporean companies were reported to launder huge amounts of stolen timber onto the international market, with China as the biggest consumer.

Overwhelmed by the rampant problem, Indonesian government is trying to put concerted efforts to stop the illegal activities. Antara News Agency reported that a great deal of the forests in the East Kalimantan bordering with Malaysia was damaged. Indonesian National Police Chief General Sutanto said the police had already dealt with some illegal logging financiers from Malaysia and Thailand, but some others managed to get away. He added that illegal shipments to some countries have been stopped following intensified border patrols. 

In Riau Province, about 157 illegal logging cases are being investigated by the regional police. According to Antara, the cases have tens of suspects consisting of members of the general public, businessmen and government officials. The current forestry minister, MS Kaban is known to be embroiled in polemics with the police with regard to the police’s operations in fighting illegal logging in Riau. The minister once reportedly said that the police had acted beyond the limits of law enforcement, because they chased the administrative violators, not the perpetrators. He even suggested that Riau Police Chief be fired. Indonesian Police Watch (IPW) urged National Police Chief to reject Kaban’s intervention.

Many still doubt that illegal logging can be curbed entirely. However, the problem can be controlled with tough enforcement and cooperation from neighbouring countries. 

On forest fires, another long-standing environmental problem, Greenpeace has urged the central government not to endorse a draft bylaw on the control of forest fires in Riau province. The draft bylaw contains an article that allows slash-and-burn practice which triggers fires and haze.

Close to Singapore, Riau is among the provinces most severely affected by forest fires.

As reported by Jakarta Post, Greenpeace also asked the government to immediately declare a moratorium on the conversion and destruction of peat forests across the archipelago to end the annual massive forest fires, which also badly affect neighboring countries. Forest destruction in Indonesia is not only a problem to Indonesia and the region, but a global problem contributing to climate change. Indonesia is now the world’s third largest emitter of CO2, mostly released from deforestation, land conversion and forest fires.

Greenpeace also criticized a number of oil palm plantation companies for deliberately starting the blaze as part of their land clearing activities and demanded the government and the local administration to enforce the law.

As the host of the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP)/ 3rd Meeting of the Parties (MOP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December, Indonesia may use the opportunity to demonstrate its efforts in combating deforestation, hence global warming.

Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said the conference would be very important in formulating consensus for a post-Kyoto regime when the current Kyoto protocol end in 2012. Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Destruction (REDD) will be one of the main agenda.  As for Indonesia, he was quoted by Antara as saying, "This is a good momentum for Indonesia to strengthen its bargaining position in the world`s efforts to improve global climate change."

Meanwhile, the number of hotspots in Sumatra and Malaysia in the recent week has declined from 293 to 61 due to the rain, an official of the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG) said to Antara. This news confirmed a prediction that this year’s haze would not be so bad thanks to La Nina or unusually cold ocean temperatures.  However, over in Kalimantan, the haze there was severe enough to disrupt flights over the weekend, though this seemed also to have cleared on Monday with the rain.

Elsewhere, Indonesia’s plan to build nuclear power plant is still widely debated. Former President Abudrrahman Wahid or Gus Dur told Antara that it would be better to abandon the project if doubts are still surrounding the plan. He is worried that Chernobly tragedy might happen in Muria Peninsula. Although the National Atomic Agency said the area was safe, Gus Dur also received information that Muria was prone to quakes.

Michael Richardson of Singapore wrote in Jakarta Post about the growing concern in Asia about energy security, pollution and global warming and how the region reacts by expanding or introducing nuclear power. Although advocates of nuclear power argue that nuclear releases very little carbon dioxide, and thus may be the solution to global warming, many others are still worried about the safety standard and the dangerous waste it generates.

BangladeshIndonesiaMalaysia, the PhilippinesThailandVietnam and Mongolia are among the lengthening list of Asian candidates for big nuclear reactors to start producing electricity in the next decade or so. Myanmar would build a small research reactor. The writer expressed concern over plans to put reactors in areas prone to earthquake such as in the case of Indonesia. Also of concern is the weak management and control systems in some of the Asian countries.  Another major worry is the possibility to expand the nuclear power into weapons-grade plutonium and its vulnerability as terrorist target.

The movement to utilize nuclear for peaceful purpose, has been supported by two leading nuclear weapon states, Russia and the United states, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei says that if the international community fails to control the nuclear fuel cycle, it could be the Achilles heel of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. He said, the ultimate goal should be to bring all fuel service operations under multinational authority. (17 July 2007)


Rain clears haze in Kalimantan (Straits Times, 17 July 2007)

Many forests in regions bordering with M`sia in E Kalimantan damaged (Antara, 13 July 2007)

Police urged to reject minister`s intervention in illegal logging (Antara, 12 July 2007)

No plan to question forestry minister over illegal logging in Riau: police (Antara, 12 July 2007)

Greenpeace: Indonesian forest fires turning into global menace (Antara, 12 July 2007)

Govt told to drop draft bylaw on forest fire control (Jakarta Post, 13 July 2007)

Number of hot spots in SumatraMalaysia declining (Antara, 13 July 2007)

Haze disrupts flights in Indonesia (Jakarta Post, 13 July 2007)

Minister kicks off preparations for world confab on climate change (Antara, 13 July 2007)

Gus Dur: if still full of doubt, no need to build a nuclear power plant (Antara, 13 July 2007)

Rising demand for nuclear energy among Asian nations, op-ed by Michael Richardson (Jakarta Post, 16 July 2007)