At home and abroad, Indonesia is highlighting its progress in curbing the environmental destruction that has depleted forests and made the Southeast Asian nation a leading source of greenhouse gases. But environmentalists are unconvinced.
They say pulp and palm oil plantations are still expanding at an alarming rate in Sumatran forests, despite efforts by the government and industry. That expansion has contributed to climate change and threatens endangered tigers and orangutans.
Indonesia’s ambassador to Washington, Dino Patti Djalal, said the government is working with industry and environmental groups to protect forests. He highlighted the move this February by Asian Pulp and Paper — the country’s top pulp producer — to halt clearance of natural forest and use just existing plantation and degraded land; and a commitment by Sinar Mas — which controls both that company and top palm oil producer Golden Agri-Resources — to protect orangutans.
“It shows that the industry wants to change, they want to do the right thing, but sometimes we have just got to help them,” Djalal told the Stimson Center think tank this week.
Richard Cronin, a Stimson Center expert on Southeast Asian environmental issues, said decentralization of decision-making that came with the dawn of democracy in Indonesia 15 years ago means that the central government has problems controlling what happens in provinces. He said commercial pressures, corruption and demand from a growing population for agricultural land take a toll.
Djalal, the ambassador, acknowledged that it’s not easy to get national environmental policies implemented locally and that, “there are times that the industry needs to be disciplined, especially in terms of how they get their land.”
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