Jokowi Revokes 3 million ha of Forestry Permits; NGOs Ignore the Good News

Mongabay reported that local environmental groups have “cautiously welcomed” President Jokowi’s announcement to revoke forestry concession permits covering a total of 3 million hectares – an area the size of Belgium – in order to improve governance and environmental practices in the sector.

This is significant for two reasons: first, it’s a huge environmental commitment. Approximately 106 concessions had their licenses revoked, with some licenses covering more than 100,000 ha in Papua. It has also included revocation of some palm oil licenses in Riau.

Second – this huge news was essentially ignored by international media and NGOs. Greenpeace’s ever-busy PR machine? Silence. All those Western donors funding environmental campaigns in SE Asia? Nothing. Even Mongabay’s article seems desperate to find reasons to criticise Jokowi rather than celebrate the environmental benefits.

These groups have been quick to comment in the past when they wish to undermine the President’s environmental initiatives – despite Indonesia posting its lowest deforestation on record last year. Perhaps they just don’t like good news.

Greenpeace has again come under fire of late in Indonesia. 

In November, Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut called for the NGO to be audited for ‘spreading false information.’

This followed statements by Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment that accused Greenpeace of directly contributing to deforestation in Indonesia – because of its collaborations with a number of companies from 2011 to 2018.

The question for Western NGOs – and elected officials in the EU – is when they will recognise that Indonesia’s forest and land-use reforms have been effective and successful.

Recognition from groups like Greenpeace, or Mighty Earth, which have both actively campaigned against reforms by President Jokowi, would effectively be an admission of their own errors. With funding from foreign governments, both have used a strategy that assumes only external influences – such as trade measures – are the path to improving forest and land governance.

However, President Jokowi’s most recent move – and earlier moves such as the palm oil moratorium – demonstrate that this is wrong. Domestic political will, aligned with the country’s broader sustainable development goals, are ultimately what effects change.

The US – particularly John Kerry – has recognised Jokowi’s deforestation efforts. Brussels should do the same.

Norway’s US Political and Media Play

Palm Oil Monitor has regularly called out the work of Waxman Strategies and Mighty Earth’s Norwegian-funded forays in Indonesia.

More details of the influence of the Norwegian Government – via the two lobby groups – are now coming to light via filings at the US Department of Justice. The DOJ filings show precisely how Norway’s ‘aid’ money was used to attempt to influence US government policy – and have media stories placed in US and international business media.

Most notable of these is correspondence between the Norwegian-funded programs and the office of Senator Brian Schatz, who has sponsored the US FOREST Act. The proposed legislation will have an impact on commodity exports from Indonesia, including palm oil, timber/paper, rubber and cocoa – some of the country’s largest exports to the US.

Contact was also made with the office of Congressional representative Deb Haaland – now Secretary of the Interior – on a number of occasions. One meeting related directly to Indonesian policy, another appears to be linked to an apparent attempt to ‘embarrass’ Brazil’s President Jair Bolsanaro. Can we assume that Mighty Earth and Waxman were attempting to ‘embarrass’ Jokowi in the same way?

Similar contact was made with the office of Congressman Peter Welch.

But the Norwegian aid money also appears to have been used to place – or at least influence – stories in business media such as the Wall Street Journal.

The question, however, is what has been left off the table. While the US provides a great deal of transparency around lobbying activity and domestic policy, this is confined only to the United States. How much influence has the Norwegian government attempted to peddle in other countries – particularly the EU?

ICYMI: POM in Food Navigator

POM’s Khalil Manaf Hegarty has been featured in Food Navigator this week, speaking about how the EU’s deforestation regulation will potentially undermine EU-Indonesia trade relations, as well as potentially threaten a speedy conclusion to a trade agreement between Indonesia and the EU. He states:

“The EU is currently in the midst of negotiations with Indonesia over a potential free trade agreement. [This situation] simply adds to the complications of completing a deal that is being held hostage by EU domestic politics, rather than genuine concerns about deforestation – Indonesia’s deforestation rates are at historic lows.

“It is also worth noting that Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has recently emphasised that the country will not accept regulations undermining Indonesia’s development or sovereignty.”

Read the full story here.