Losing Hope

Tempo.co Dipublikasikan 12.22, 05/08 • Laila Afifa
The site for the planned road construction that will cut through Harapan Forest in Jambi. Doc: Hutan Harapan
The construction of a mining access road in Harapan Forest (the forest of hope) in Sumatra is a step back in the endeavor to overcome climate change.

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - THE decision by the environment and forestry ministry to grant permission for the construction of a road through the middle of the Hutan Harapan (forest of hope) in Jambi and South Sumatra is a step back in the endeavor to overcome climate change.

The move by Minister Siti Nurbaya also brings shame on Indonesia's hard work to reduce emissions to the equivalent of 11.2 million tons of carbon dioxide from 2016 to 2017, an initiative that earned the appreciation of the Norwegian government, which is to donate Rp813 billion in September.

The construction of this mining access road in the middle of the forest is like a two-edged sword that will strike at two endeavors to mitigate climate change in Indonesia: as well as damaging a forest that absorbs emissions, this road is like a celebration of the coal industry that is one of the causes of global warming. The 26-kilometer mining access road in Harapan Forest will not only damage the trees there but also threatens the diversity of flora and fauna in the restoration area.

The restoration of the ecosystem itself is an initiative by the government of Indonesia launched in 2007 as a new way to manage the forest. It emerged after 34 million hectares of natural forest in Indonesia was destroyed as a result of non-sustainable management by the timber industry since the New Order era in the 1970s. The Harapan Forest in Jambi and South Sumatra is a pioneer of this policy. The forest there is gradually being restored by Restorasi Ekosistem Indonesia as well as being protected from the threat of illegal logging, burning, and clearing. A number of environmental foundations around the world have made significant donations for Harapan Forest.

The 98,555-hectare forest is particularly important as a habitat for the remaining endemic Sumatran wildlife. It is traversed by protected animals such as tigers, elephants and honey bears. If the mining access road is built, these rare animals face possible extinction, especially since their habitat is also being encroached on by the conversion of forest into plantations or for mining and agriculture. The loss of these protected species will damage the balance of the ecosystem.

The decision by the environment ministry to grant the permit for the road construction in this region is also surprising because a similar request by Musi Mitra Jaya, of a subsidiary of the Atlas Group, in 2012 was rejected. The company planned to build a new 88-kilometer road because the old 133-kilometer road was considered as too circuitous and narrow. Behind this plan were the interests of a number of mining companies which had long complained that the road was unsatisfactory for transporting coal to be exported to China and India.

For six years, requests by Musi Mitra Jaya to construct a mining access road in Harapan Forest were always rejected. A coalition of local people, as well as civil organizations and the provincial administrations of Jambi and South Sumatra, united to oppose the plan. Even the research, development, and innovation agency of the environment ministry always viewed the construction of the road as not being in accordance with the endeavor to restore the forest.

Eventually, in 2018, Marga Bara Jaya, a subsidiary of the Rajawali Group owned by tycoon Peter Sondakh, followed up on the application for permission to build a mining road in the middle of Harapan Forest. There was further public opposition. Not only was it at odds with the ecosystem restoration permit held by Restorasi, but the request by Marga Bara Jaya was also in contradiction of Government Regulation No. 6/2007 on forestry planning and management. The permit for the road was also not in agreement with the Ministry of Environment Regulation No. 27/2018 on guidelines for the forest area utilization permit (IPPKH).

However, it seems that misfortune is unavoidable, and the Rajawali lobbying turned out to be effective. Minister Siti Nurbaya issued a new regulation on the IPPKH. In Ministry of Environment Regulation No. 7/2019, Siti added a paragraph to Article 12 allowing for the clearing of forests for mining access roads. This revision was followed by the issuing of decision No. 186 that gave permission for the leasing of a forest area of 424.41 hectares for a mining access road to Marga Bara Jaya. Siti signed this decision three days before the end of her term of office in President Joko Widodo's first cabinet.

Minister Siti has no choice but to revoke this decision before it is the subject of a lawsuit. If not, the public will suspect a hidden motive behind the minister's policy. And President Jokowi must keep the promise he made at the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris to reduce Indonesia's carbon emissions by 855 million tons, or 29 percent, by 2030. The construction of a mining access road in Harapan Forest will make it difficult for Jokowi to keep this promise.

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