Indonesia’s rainforests are one of earth’s most biologically and culturally rich landscapes. The world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia consists of almost 18,000 islands spanning between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Containing the largest expanse of rainforest in all of Asia, it is home to hundreds of distinct Indigenous languages and over 3,000 animal species including Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros and orangutans.
As recently as the 1960s, about 80 percent of Indonesia was forested. Since then, however, demand for commodities like pulp, paper, plywood and palm oil has combined with corruption, political croneyism, uncertainty about land rights and poorly enforced policies to create the conditions for a massive land and resource grab by large corporate interests. This profit driven resource rush is moving across the island chain, clear cutting rainforests, destroying critical habitat for endangered species, and sowing social conflict with communities that depend on the forests for their livelihoods.
Sadly, Indonesia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, and just under half of the country’s original forest cover now remains. Although estimates vary widely, conservative studies suggest more than a million hectares (2.4 million acres) of Indonesian rainforest is cleared and lost each year, with about 70% occurring in forests on mineral soils and 30% on carbon-rich peatland forests.
Indonesia has skyrocketing environmental and social problems resulting from all of this forest clearing. Too many unique species like the Javan tiger are already extinct and many others, like the orangutan, are gravely threatened. Burning to clear rainforests is widespread, emitting a thick haze of smoke that shuts down regional air traffic and provokes public health alerts in urban areas hundreds of miles away. Pesticides and factory run-off are polluting the waterways and local soils. Growing corporate control of land is responsible for serious human rights abuses and persistent conflicts between companies and local communities.
Economic Value of Rainforests
Continued clearing of natural forests and drainage of peatland is creating serious economic losses as well. Indonesia’s standing forests provide innumerable services, most of which have been poorly valued economically and are only just starting to be appreciated.
According to the authoritative Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity initiative, 99 million Indonesians are dependent on ecosystem services for their livelihoods, and they account for 21% of Indonesia’s GDP. Ecosystem services account for 75% of the GDP of Indonesia’s rural poor. Indigenous people have sustained and been sustained by these forests for many centuries. Now they are bearing witness to their destruction in less than a generation.
Rainforest Destruction and Climate Change
The scale of destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests is so large that it is now having significant impacts on the global climate. Rainforest and peatland ecosystems store billions of tons of carbon, and their demolition releases huge emissions into the atmosphere. Indonesia is now the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the U.S. and China, with 85% of its emissions profile coming from rainforest and peatland degradation and loss. Five per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions are now coming from Indonesia, which is more than the combined emissions from driving all the millions of cars, trucks, trains, and buses in the U.S. each year combined.
The Indonesian government and industry have plans to convert tens of millions of acres of rainforest to palm oil and pulp plantations over the next decade, making Indonesia perhaps the most critical region to challenge tropical forest destruction in the world today.
Rainforest Action Network is working with Indonesian partners to change the policies and practices of the agribusiness and pulp and paper sectors to end their contribution to this destruction. RAN works to help create conditions where community rights and land tenure are respected and upheld, and to support implementation of low carbon, ecologically sustainable and equitable development.