Deforestation in Indonesia

Deforestation in Indonesia involves the long-term loss of forests and foliage across much of the country; it has had massive environmental and social impacts. Indonesia is home to some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world and ranks third in number of species behind Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.[1]

Deforestation in Riau province, Sumatra, to make way for an oil palm plantation (2007).

As late as 1900, Indonesia was still a densely forested country: forests represented 84 percent of the total land area. Deforestation intensified in the 1970s[1] and has accelerated further since then. The estimated forest cover of 170 million hectares around 1900 decreased to less than 100 million hectares by the end of the 20th century.[2] In 2008, it was estimated that tropical rainforests in Indonesia would be logged out in a decade.[3] Of the total logging in Indonesia, up to 80% is reported to be performed illegally.[4]

Large areas of forest in Indonesia have been cleared by large multinational pulp companies, such as Asia Pulp and Paper,[5] and replaced by plantations. Forests are often burned by farmers[6] and plantation owners. Another major source of deforestation is the logging industry, driven by demand from China and Japan.[7] Agricultural development and transmigration programs moved large populations into rainforest areas, further increasing deforestation rates.

Logging and the burning of forests to clear land for cultivation has made Indonesia the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States.[8] Forest fires often destroy high capacity carbon sinks, including old-growth rainforest and peatlands. In May 2011, Indonesia declared a moratorium on new logging contracts to help combat this.[9] This appeared to be ineffective in the short-term, as the rate of deforestation continued to increase. By 2012 Indonesia had surpassed the rate of deforestation in Brazil,[10] and become the fastest forest clearing nation in the world.[11]


Deforestation for a tobacco plantation in North Sumatra (ca.1900).

The Indonesian archipelago of about 17,000 islands is home to some of the most biodiverse forests in the world. In 1900 the total forest represented 84% of the total land area.[1] By 1950 plantations and smallholder plantings of tree crops still only covered a small area. The forest cover by that time is estimated to 145 million ha (hectares) of primary forest and another 14 million ha (hectares) of secondary and tidal forest.[2]

In the early 1970s Indonesia used this valuable resource to its economic benefit with the development of the country's wood processing industries. From the late 1980s to 2000, production capacity has increased nearly 700% in the pulp and paper industries, making Indonesia the world's ninth largest pulp producer and eleventh largest paper producer.[1]

The rate of deforestation continues to increase. The 2009 State Environment Report launched by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono revealed that the number of fire hotspots rose to 32,416 in 2009 from only 19,192 in 2008. The Environment Ministry blamed the increase on weak law enforcement and a lack of supervision from local authorities, with land clearance as the primary cause of the fires.[12]

Between 1990 and 2000 20% of the forest area in Indonesia had been lost (24 million ha) and by 2010, only 52% of the total land area was forested (94 million ha).[13] Even despite a moratorium on new logging contracts imposed in 2010, the rate of deforestation continued to increase to an estimated 840,000 hectares in 2012, surpassing deforestation in Brazil.[14] Deforestation in Indonesia peaked in 2016, and thereafter declined, falling by about 30% (comparing 2009–2016 with 2017–2019).[15] Studies attributed the decline to "a policy mix including bans on primary forest clearing and peat drainage, a review of land concessions, and a moratorium on new palm oil plantations and mines" as well as to oil palm sustainability certification programs for forests on existing plantations.[15] Community forest titles were also issued for 2.4 million hectares across Indonesia, but a 2021 study did not find evidence that these programs reduced deforestation.[15]

Drivers of deforestation

Over the years 20012016, the largest single driver of deforestation in Indonesia was palm oil plantations, accounting for about 23% of deforestation nationwide. The second largest driver of deforestation was conversion of forests to grassland/shrubland, accounting for about 20% of deforestation nationwide. Clearances for small-scale agriculture and small-scale mixed plantations accounted for a combined 22% of deforestation nationwide. Logging roads and small-scale clearings, followed by regrowth of secondary forest, accounted for about 10% of deforestation nationwide. All other causes (such as mining and fish ponds) collectively accounted for about 5% of deforestation nationwide.[16]


Rapid and increasing deforestation harms Indonesia's broad biodiversity and drives Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions, which are among the world's highest.[16] The conversion and burning of peat soils causes severe air pollution, presenting major public health harms.[16]

Affected regions

Indonesia's lowland tropical forests, the richest in timber resources and biodiversity, are most at risk. By 2000 they have been almost entirely cleared in Sulawesi, and predicted to disappear within few years in Sumatra and Kalimantan.[2]

In Sumatra tens of thousands of square kilometres of forest have been destroyed often under central government concessions given to palm oil companies to remove the forest.[17] In Kalimantan, from 1991 to 2014, large areas of the forest were burned because of uncontrollable fire causing atmospheric pollution across South-East Asia.[18]

Illegal land clearing

NASA's Terra satellite picture of thick smoke hung over the island of Borneo on 5 October 2006. The fires occur annually in the dry season (August–October), caused mainly by land-clearing and other agricultural fires, but fires escape control and burn into forests and peat-swamp areas.

A 2007 United Nations Environment Program report estimated that between 73% and 88% of timber logged in Indonesia is the result of illegal logging. Subsequent estimates were that between 40% and 55% of logged in Indonesia is the result of illegal logging.[19] A 2021 study estimated that 81% of forest conversion for palm oil in Indonesia was illegal, and that Indonesia's Supreme Audit Agency determined that less than 20% of the nation's palm oil operations complied with national laws and regulations.[20]

Malaysia is the key transit country for illegal wood products from Indonesia.[21]

Private corporations, motivated by economic profits from local and regional market demands for timber, are culpable for deforestation. These agro-industrial companies often do not comply with the basic legal regulations by inappropriately employing cost effective yet environmentally inefficient deforestation methods such as forest fires to clear the land for agricultural purposes. The 1999 Forestry Law states that it is essential for companies to be endorsed by authorities in respective regions with an IPK permit, a timber harvesting permit, for legal approval of their deforestation activities.[22] Many of these corporations could circumvent this red tape, maximise revenue profits by employing illegal logging activities as lax law enforcement and porous law regulations in large developing countries like Indonesia undermine forestry conservation efforts.[23]

In the social landscape, small-scale subsistence farmers in rural areas, who received minimal education, employ a basic method of slash-and-burn to support their agricultural activities. This rudimentary agricultural technique involves the felling of forest trees before a dry season and, subsequently, the burning of these trees in the following dry season to provide fertilisers to support their crop activities. This agricultural practice is repetitively employed on the same plot of land until it is denuded of its nutrients and could no longer suffice to support agricultural yields. Thereafter, these farmers will move on to occupy another plot of land and continually practice their slash-and-burn technique.[24] This contributing social factor to deforestation reinforces the challenges faced by forestry sustainability in developing countries such as Indonesia.

On the political front, the Indonesian governmental role in curbing deforestation has largely been criticised. Corruption amongst local Indonesian officials fuels cynicism with regard to the governmental clampdown on illegal logging activities. In 2008, the acquittal of a proprietor for a timber firm, Adelin Lis, alleged for illegal logging further galvanised public opinion and drew criticisms at the Indonesian political institution.[25]

The Indonesian government grapples with the management of deforestation with sustainable urban development as rural-urban migration necessitates the expansion of cities.[26] The lack of accountability to deforestation with pertinence to transmigration projects undertaken by the Indonesian government illustrates minimal supporting evidence to testify to considerations for forestry sustainability in their development projects. This further augments scepticism in the Indonesian government's credibility in efficiently and responsibly managing their urban development projects and forestry conservation efforts.[27]

Conservation efforts

Efforts to curb global climate change have included measures designed to monitor the progression of deforestation in Indonesia and incentivise national and local governments to halt it. The general term for these sorts of programs is Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). New systems to monitor deforestation are being applied to Indonesia. One such system, the Center for Global Development's Forest Monitoring for Action platform currently displays monthly-updated data on deforestation throughout Indonesia.[28]

On 26 May 2010 Indonesia signed a letter of intent with Norway, to place a two-year moratorium on new logging concessions, part of a deal in which Indonesia will receive up to $US1 billion if it adheres to its commitment. The accord was expected to put curbs on Indonesia's palm oil industry and delay or slow plans for the creation of a huge agricultural estate in Papua province.[29] Funds will initially be devoted to finalising Indonesia's climate and forest strategy, building and institutionalising capacity to monitor, report and verify reduced emissions, and putting in place enabling policies and institutional reforms.[30] Norway is going to help Indonesia to set up a system to help reduce corruption so that the deal can be enforced.[31][32] The two-year logging moratorium was declared on 20 May 2011.[9] The moratorium was extended by another two years in 2013.[33]

In 2014, Indonesia was one of about 40 countries who endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests, a voluntary pledge to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030. The agreement was not legally binding, however, and some key countries, such as Brazil, China, and Russia, did not sign onto it.[34][35][36] As a result, the effort failed, and deforestation increased from 2014 to 2020, both globally and in Indonesia.[34][35] In November 2021, Indonesia was one of 141 countries (collectively making up around 85% of the world's primary tropical forests and 90% of global tree cover) agreed at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow to the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use, a pledge to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.[35][37][38] The agreement was accompanied by about $19.2 billion in associated funding commitments.[37] Like the earlier agreement, the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration was entered into outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and is thus not legally binding.[37] Immediately after Indonesia entered the pledge, the county's government walked back the commitment, with environment minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar stating that "forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is clearly inappropriate and unfair".[39]

See also



  1. ABC Four Corners: Background information on Indonesia, deforestation and illegal logging Archived 16 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved 28 May 2010
  2. Matthews, Emilly (ed.): The State of Forests Indonesia, Bogor 2002, Retrieved 28 May 2010
  3. China is black hole of Asia's deforestation, Asia News, 24 March 2008
  4. Riskanalys av glas, järn, betong och gips Archived 13 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine 29 March 2011. s.19–20 (in Swedish)
  5. "Indonesia without trees? - Record breaking logging of last rainforests". Friends of the Earth International. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  6. Slash and burn, Encyclopedia of Earth
  7. "Japan depletes Borneo's rainforests; China remains largest log importer". Archived from the original on 29 May 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  8. Higgins, Andrew (19 November 2009). "The Washington Post, November 19, 2009". Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  9. "Indonesia's forest moratorium: A stepping stone to better forest governance?", CIFOR Working Paper 76, 2011
  10. Bachelard, Michael: "World's worst illegal logging in Indonesia", in The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 2014
  11. "Deforestation in Indonesia Is Double the Government's Official Rate", in Scientific American, 30 June 2014
  12. Simamora, Adianto (11 June 2010). "More hotspots detected despite pledge to reduce forest fires". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 12 June 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  13. Staff (30 November 2011) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 – Trends in Extent of Forest 1990–2010 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Media Centre, Accessed 5 March 2012
  14. John Vidal: "Rate of deforestation in Indonesia overtakes Brazil, says study" in The Guardian, 30 June 2014
  15. Sebastian Kraus, Jacqueline Liu, Nicolas Koch, Sabine Fuss, No aggregate deforestation reductions from rollout of community land titles in Indonesia yet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (October 2021), 118 (43), doi:10.1073/pnas.2100741118.
  16. Kemen G. Austin, Amanda Schwantes, Yaofeng Gu & Prasad S. Kasibhatla, What causes deforestation in Indonesia?, Environmental Research Letters, Vol 14, No. 2 (2019).
  17. Losing land to palm oil in Kalimantan, BBC News, 3 August 2007
  18. "Forest fires result from government failure in Indonesia". Archived from the original on 13 July 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  19. Jake Schmidt, Illegal Logging in Indonesia: The Environmental Economic and Social Costs. BlueGreen Alliance, April 2010.
  20. Cassie Dummett, Arthur Blundell, Kerstin Canby, Michael Wolosin, and Eszter Bodnar, Report: Illicit Harvest, Complicit Goods: The State of Illegal Deforestation for Agriculture, Forest Policy, Trade, and Finance Initiative, Forest Trends Association, May 2021.
  21. Environmental Investigation Agency and Telepak (2004) Profiting from Plunder: How Malaysia Smuggles Endangered Wood.
  22. "Indonesia's Sinar Mas Accused of Illegal Land Clearing". The Jakarta Globe. 10 December 2009. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  23. "88 percent of logging illegal: ICW". The Jakarta Post. 22 June 2011. Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  24. Tony Waters, The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture, p. 3. Lexington Books (2007)
  25. "INECE Newsletter – 16th Edition". Archived from the original on 7 January 2008. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  26. William D. Sunderlin and Ida Aju Pradnja Resosudarmo: "Rates and Causes of Deforestation in Indonesia: Towards a Resolution of the Ambiguities", in CIFOR Occasional Paper no.9, 1996
  27. Transparency International: "Tackling Political Corruption to Combat Illegal Logging", Project paper, 2011
  28. Center for Global Development: Forest Monitoring for Action, retrieved 24 October 2010
  29. Allard, Tom (28 May 2010). "Norway to pay for Indonesian logging moratorium". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  30. The Norway Post: Deforestation agreement with Indonesia Archived 8 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 28 May 2010
  31. Belford, Aubrey (27 May 2010). "Indonesia Agrees to Curb Commercial Deforestation". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
  32. "Indonesia declares logging halt". Al Jazeera. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
  33. "Indonesia Extends Logging Ban to Protect Rainforest" Archived 3 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine, in The Jakarta Globa, 15 May 2013
  34. "COP26: World leaders promise to end deforestation by 2030". BBC News. 2 November 2021.
  35. Rhett A. Butler (5 November 2021). "What countries are leaders in reducing deforestation? Which are not?". Mongabay.
  36. "Endorsers of the New York Declaration on Forests". Forest Declaration.
  37. Jake Spring & Simon Jessop (3 November 2021). "Over 100 global leaders pledge to end deforestation by 2030". Reuters.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  38. "Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forests and Land Use". 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. 12 November 2021.
  39. "Indonesia walks back zero-deforestation pledge at COP26". Agence France-Presse. 4 November 2021.
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