Promising Signs of Hope for Papua’s Forests
Recent news from Indonesia on revisions made to the Papua Provincial Spatial Plan, made public this month, gives rise to significant hopes that large areas of Papua’s forests may be saved from conversion to plantations and agricultural estates, at least in the short-to-medium term.
In late 2009, EIA and our Indonesian partners, Telapak, released Up for Grabs, a report and film revealing the massive scale of the threat to Papua’s last frontier forests from large scale plantations and agriculture expansion.
As the report explained, substantially different visions for land use in Papua are in competition.
On one hand, elements in the central government in Jakarta and local elites in key districts in Papua have been facilitating major investment in plantations and agriculture – with dire consequences for millions of hectares of forests and the people and biodiversity dependent on them.
On the other hand, Papua Province’s Governor Suebu, working with progressive elements locally, nationally and internationally, has been seeking a different low-carbon and pro-Papuan path to development that seeks to protect forests from the business-as-usual model that has decimated Indonesia’s forest estate over the past three decades.
This month, Papua’s government finally registered its Provincial Spatial Plan with the central government. The plan defines land use zoning and functions from 2010 – 2030, and must be incorporated into the national spatial plan.
Under the new plan, Papua’s Protected Forest area has been increased by 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres), a massive 44% increase.
More significantly, the area classified as “Conversion Forest” – the focus of big plantations companies – has been decreased by 2.85 million hectares (around 7 million acres), also a 44% decrease.
This is fantastic news, sending a clear signal to supporters of major plantations expansion in Papua that such land is no longer up for grabs. Under Indonesia’s old forest function classifications, a whopping 9 million hectares of Papua’s forests were classified as “Conversion Forest”.
The new plan also decreases the area classified as “Production Forest” (forests allocated for industrial logging) by 4.9 million hectares, or 12 million acres, a huge 60% reduction. Mush of this land is now reclassified as protected forest and as “Limited Production Forest” – placing environmental and social constraints on industrial logging that the Governor and Papuans more widely hope will translate into sustainable community forestry by Papuans themselves.
One significant area of contention these changes have effected is the Merauke Integrated Food & Energy Estate (MIFEE), a controversial central government plan to convert between 1.2 and 1.7 million hectares of Merauke District into mechanised oil palm, sugar, and industrial timber plantations, with finance from China, the Middle East, South Korea, and some of Indonesia’s most aggressive deforesters.
MIFEE has been widely criticised by Indonesian campaigners, who have highlighted, amongst other issues, the serious environmental, human rights and demographic threats to Papuans from the project. The project was “launched” by the central government before the Merauke government’s Spatial Plan had been agreed. Papua’s new spatial plan now limits the scheme to just 500,000 hectares, theoretically saving at least 700,000 hectares of forest from conversion in just one project area.
How Papua’s new land classifications are respected by central government planners, and those at the district level, is yet to be seen, and the plan must still be agreed by Parliament in Jakarta. However, with Indonesia aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 26%, largely from the forestry and land use sectors, Papua’s revisions offer the country a clear route to achieving these aims. Papua embodies the largest areas of remaining forests and peatland in the entire country – a fact not lost on Governor Suebu, who has repeatedly explained that “the capacity of Papua’s 42 million hectares (104 million acres) of forests to process CO2 is equivalent to the carbon footprint of nearly all the population of Europe”.