Posts Tagged ‘illegal fires’

Indonesia Court Finds Corporation Guilty of Setting Illegal Fires

August 31, 2016

A helicopter from Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency dousing fires in Kampar in Riau province on Aug 29, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The Palembang High Court has overturned a lower court’s decision to clear pulpwood firm Bumi Mekar Hijau (BMH) of illegally setting fires on its concession land in 2014.

According to a copy of the Aug 12 ruling that was seen by The Straits Times, the firm was found to have “committed an unlawful act”.

The High Court also ordered BMH, which supplies products to Indonesia’s Sinar Mas Group, to pay 78.5 billion rupiah (S$8 million) in damages.

The award is a small fraction of the 7.8 trillion rupiah in damages sought by the Environment and Forestry Ministry when it first filed the civil suit against BMH last year.

Still, green groups such as the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) hailed the latest verdict as a “small win” for Indonesia’s conservation efforts.

Walhi’s South Sumatra chapter director Hadi Jatmiko said: “On the one hand, the court is on the side of the environment by saying BMH is guilty of having illegally burnt 20,000ha of its own concession in 2014. But it is disappointing that the compensation is less than 1 per cent of the total sum demanded.”

Indonesia – through its Environment and Forestry Ministry – has been taking errant firms to task over illegal forest fires that have been the cause of transboundary haze pollution.

Mr Jasmin Ragil Utomo, who is from the Environment and Forestry Ministry, yesterday acknowledged the court’s decision.

“The most important thing is that the court has declared that the company has committed a violation,” said Mr Jasmin, who is the ministry’s director for environmental dispute settlement.

BMH’s lawyers declined to comment on the case, saying they have not received an official copy of the latest verdict.

This is not the first time BMH is in the news over allegations related to forest fires. Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency earlier this year said the firm has been ordered to restore 95,000ha of damaged peatland in its concessions.

An Indonesian soldier tries to extingusih a peatland fire in Kampar, Riau, Sumatra island, Indonesia on Aug 23, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS / ANTARA FOTO

Satellite data from Global Forest Watch detected at least 22 fire alerts in their pulpwood concessions between Aug 21 and Sunday.

Indonesia – through its Environment and Forestry Ministry – has been taking errant firms to task over illegal forest fires that have been the cause of transboundary haze pollution.

Haze from fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra returned in recent weeks, prompting fears of a repeat of last year’s crisis, which sent air pollution levels to a record high and affected millions of people in the region.

Yesterday, heavy rainfall across Indonesia provided much-needed relief for people in Sumatra’s Riau province.

Several areas in Riau were hit by severe air pollution in recent days, prompting some schools to suspend classes since Monday.

Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) yesterday said a combination of rain and fire-fighting efforts, including cloud-seeding operations, helped improve air quality.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, who heads BNPB’s data and information division, said the air pollution standard index for most regions in Sumatra was generally under 50, or in the “good” range.

In Riau’s Rokan Hilir regency – one of the worst-hit areas in recent days and where fire-fighting efforts were focused yesterday – the air quality was “moderate”.

“Fire-fighting operations in the six provinces of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and South Kalimantan will continue,” said Dr Sutopo.

A total of five BNPB helicopters as well as three fixed-wing aircraft have been deployed to douse fires in Riau, he added.


Indonesia Tries to Douse Fires That Help Fuel Economy

December 2, 2015

Developing nation aims to reel in greenhouse-gas-producing deforestation, which is used to expand plantations

Indonesian men put out a fire in Ogan Ilir, southern Sumatra. The country has moved up the global list of greenhouse-gas emitters. 
Indonesian men put out a fire in Ogan Ilir, southern Sumatra. The country has moved up the global list of greenhouse-gas emitters. Photo: abdul qodir/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Fires consumed a roughly 6.2-million-acre swath of land here this fall, much of it set to expand plantations that drive Southeast Asia’s largest economy and feed global demand for its palm oil, pulp and paper.

That released around 1.75 billion tons of greenhouse gases, potentially bumping Indonesia up to the fourth-largest emitter in the world from sixth place in a span of just weeks, researchers said. The portion of the country’s emissions that come from deforestation is the world’s highest, scientists say.

Globally, the practice contributes to about 11% of climate-altering gases, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so addressing it is a key component of any climate deal in Paris, where the role of forests and land use as a contributor to climate change is being discussed.

On Tuesday, Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said her country is cracking down on those responsible for illegally setting fires, the Associated Press reported. “We put law enforcement on the ground. Anybody who is at fault regarding this, they have to [be held] responsible.”

Leading up to the summit, she said the government hadn’t paid enough attention to forest management and supervision in the past.


President Joko Widodo said he was ashamed that authorities failed to prevent the fires, and he ordered law-enforcement agencies to punish perpetrators, including revoking forest concessions and blacklisting those responsible, the AP reported.

Indonesia has lagged behind other countries in preserving forest land while expanding its economy. The palm-oil and pulp-and-paper industries employ several million people and reap billions of dollars of annual revenue in a country that struggles with inequality.

Other major forested countries have improved their records. Brazil, once synonymous with rain-forest destruction for soybeans and cattle, reduced the practice by around 75% starting in 2002, said the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. advocacy group, although the problem has again flared in the past year or so amid growing demand for soy, palm oil and beef. India now plants more trees than it cuts down, and Mexico provides financial incentives for reforestation, the organization said, following periods of massive deforestation in both countries.

Indonesia, however, saw a decline of nearly 15 million acres of primary forest between 2000 and 2012, said a study published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change. In 2012, according to those calculations, forest losses nearly doubled those in Brazil, whose forest area is much bigger.

“Indonesia is the laggard,” said Chris Meyer, senior manager for tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, a U.S. advocacy group.

Scientists say they believe forests help regulate the climate by taking up and holding carbon dioxide.

Cutting down forests releases stored carbon, which traps heat and contributes to atmospheric warming. Indonesia’s deforestation is particularly worrisome, activists say, because about 20% of it occurs on peat land, which unlocks huge stores of additional carbon.

A complex network of economic interests drives the fires. Environmentalists often blame plantation owners. Plantation owners tend to blame locals. Unclear land ownership can add to the confusion.

Mr. Widodo on Monday signaled in Paris that Indonesia would overhaul the way it manages its forests as he tries to fulfill the country’s pledge to reduce emissions by 29% by 2030, including restoring forests and peat land.

“As a country with one of the largest forest areas acting as the lungs of the world, Indonesia is here today as part of the solution,” he said.

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He said Indonesia would establish a peat restoration agency, though he didn’t provide further details. One plantation owner, Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd., on Tuesday said it would invest $100 million over 10 years to expand protection and restoration of carbon-rich peat lands in central Sumatra.

To reduce fossil-fuel emissions, Mr. Widodo said his government would pursue a plan to increase the use of renewable energy to 23% of national energy mix by 2025. He also cited current rules aimed at combating forest clearing, including a moratorium on new development in primary forest and peat land.

The environmental advocacy group Greenpeace said his statement lacked new details or tough commitments.

Rather than dent economic growth, scientists say better land use could bring Indonesia economic benefits. Scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research, a global environmental-research center based in Indonesia, estimate that the economic cost of this year’s fires would likely run into billions of dollars.

“In reality, forest fires bring a lot of health problems, they shut down schools and airports and hurt the economy,” said Andhyta Utami, climate-program director at the World Resources Institute in Indonesia.

But the economic pressures are great. Indonesia produces 52% of the world’s palm oil, used in everything from ice cream to lipstick, an industry whose exports earned $18 billion last year, according to the Center for International Forestry Research.

The country’s Palm Oil Association, whose members have pledged not to deforest, has also warned that any moves to reduce production would set back the country.

Even within Mr. Widodo’s administration, there is resistance. The ministry of agriculture, for example, has raised concerns about a no-deforestation pledge by several palm-oil companies, saying it could hurt small landholders. These sentiments signal a battle ahead.

“The reason fires happen is because people are making a lot of money off of them,” said Louis Verchot, director of environment research at the Bogor-based Center for International Forestry Research.

Write to Sara Schonhardt at




Singapore Central Business District, or CBD skyline is covered with a thick haze.


An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo