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Record low deforestation rates in Indonesia despite ongoing pandemic

Blog | Thu, 13 Jan, 2022 · 10 min read
Orangutan in Indonesian forest (@Unsplash)

(Orang Utan in Indonesian forest @ Unsplash)

Indonesia’s deforestation rate hit a historic low in 2020, with the government crediting its policies, including its social forestry policy, as well as its prohibition of forest clearing. But other factors include the ongoing La Nina which has led to more rain, falling oil palm prices, on top of the economic slowdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country lost 115,459 hectares of forest cover in 2020, an area the size of Los Angeles. That’s a 75% drop from 2019, according to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.  

Since COP13 in Bali, Indonesia has progressively moved forward with its REDD+ agenda, with international support from UN-REDD which initiated the first jurisdictional pilot in central Sulawesi. After that, the jurisdictional approach became a key element of Indonesia’s REDD+ architecture as per Minister of Environment and Forestry Regulation No.70/2017 regarding Procedure for Implementation of REDD+. This has led to a developed jurisdictional approach including emission reduction purchase agreements with the FCPF and the Biocarbon Fund and a results-based payment agreement with the Green Climate Fund through the Indonesian Environmental Estate Fund.

In the initial months of the pandemic, there was considerable concern that, similar to the East Asian financial crisis, when  per capita expenditure declined by about 24 percent between 1997 and 1998, this would result in a substantial increase in pressure placed on forests by smallholders, both as a means of coping with the economic and social effects of the crisis and as a response to changes in relative prices. Agriculture did act as a major shock absorber. Similar pressure has emerged recently in the aftermath of social distancing, fueling a substantial return migration. However, similar trends were not confirmed for the 2019 pandemic.

Peatlands in Indonesia (@EIA)


A proactive sustainable tropical peatland policy and new, improved social safety net policies over the last two decades to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis might have had unintended impacts on forestry policy. Government regulations, after the big peat fire of 2015, have intensified the protection and sustainable management of peatland. Other government regulations manage the water table, improve efforts to protect and restore vulnerable peat ecosystems.

Peatlands in Indonesia generate over 45 percent of total emissions, but with the Indonesian sustainable peatland policy in place, as per government regulation 57/2016,  peat water management is now regulated, directly reducing peat fires and hence decomposition emissions. Other government regulations manage the water table, improve efforts to protect and restore vulnerable peat ecosystems.

Peatlands cover less than three percent of the Earth’s surface, but they are the largest terrestrial organic carbon stock – storing twice as much carbon as in the world’s forests.

“When peatlands degrade, they contribute disproportionately to climate change. Imagine, greenhouse gas emissions from drained or burned peatlands account for five percent of the global carbon budget,” says Johan Kieft who focuses on green economy mainstreaming in development planning in Indonesia to address drivers of deforestation as well as work on improving the ability to address peat land fires and peat land management.  

The Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) is an international partnership formed in 2016 to save peatlands as the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock.

The country is now embarking on an ambitious 2030 agenda by turning Indonesian forests and peatlands into net carbon sinks. Furthermore, government decisions, in combination with the Indonesian Environmental Estate Fund, to make Indonesia’s forests a carbon net sink by 2030, support proactive carbon pricing.

Furthermore, a progressive roll out of an expanded social security safety net will dampen the impact of the pandemic for the poor through the government’s solid foundation of social protection programs, including social assistance programs in the form of a conditional cash transfers (Program Keluarga Harapan), education cash transfers (Program Indonesia Pintar), food assistance (Sembako) and others. Labor market programs and worker protection schemes (Kartu Pra Kerja) have been instrumental in reducing the reliance on forests to cope with periods of income uncertainty. These programs, in combination with a proactive forest protection policy, have reduced deforestation and serve as the cornerstones of Indonesia’s success in reducing deforestation rates to record lows.

View of Mount Agung, Indonesia (@Unsplash)


“This is very encouraging news,” says Tim Christophersen,  coordinator of The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems and restore them to achieve global goals. “Only with healthy ecosystems can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change and halt the collapse of biodiversity.” The Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the timeline scientists have identified as last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.

“Indonesia has addressed deforestation through the effective implementation of moratoria on licenses for clearing natural forests. Secondly, its timber legality framework has brought illegal logging under control. And thirdly, its social forestry policy has enabled communities to benefit from sustainable forest use while its social security policies address the income needs of those who rely on clearing forests to cope with economic hardship. All three measures have led to record low deforestation,” says Kieft.

“UN-REDD is honoured to be a supporting partner for Indonesia to help achieve the goals of Article 5 of the Paris Agreement. Indonesia has made remarkable advancements on REDD+ since being one of first nine pilot countries to join UN-REDD Programme in 2009 progressing from the Readiness Phase to the Demonstration Phase of REDD+ and successfully into Results Based Payments. With Indonesia’s continuing leadership, 2022 can be a turning point for action in the forest and land use sector,” added Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat.



Johan Kieft

Senior Regional Advisor Asia-Pacific on Green Economy