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Historic logging ban extended in Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has refreshed a two-year moratorium on logging. But some environmental groups say he has ignored demands for more effective protection of the country's forests.

It could be good news for the primary forests of the world: The Indonesian government has renewed a moratorium on logging. But environmental groups say the ban doesn't do enough to protect some of the world's most important rainforests.

The rule is aimed at protecting the country's virgin forest forests and peatland. But a string of exceptions allow cutting of trees for projects deemed in the national interest. Environmentalists say this can mean everything from oil and gas extraction, to farming in the ostensible interest of food security. And, secondary forests - or areas that have already been logged and then replanted - do not fall under protection.

"More than 70 percent of Indonesia used to be covered by forest," Greenpeace forestry expert Yuyun Indradi told DW. "It's one of our greatest assets, and it is very sad to see deforestation happening at a speed beyond our expectations - and contribute to global [carbon] emissions."

Clear-cut forest in Indonesia (Photo: imago/HBLnetwork)

Deforestation to make way for plam oil plantations is one threat to Indonesia's forests

The moratorium was first introduced in 2011, when Norway pledged up to $1 billion to the Indonesian government to preserve rainforests, and was renewed in 2013.

This week, Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed a further two-year extension. "We need to protect our forests," Widodo said.

Indradi said that previous to 2011, Indonesia held the word record for the deforestation rate, at 2 million hectares per year. Indonesia still loses an average of around half a million hectares of primary forest each year - mainly to agriculture, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). Palm oil is the country's biggest agricultural export.

Indonesia's forests are home to endangered species including orangutans, tigers and elephants. According to Greenpeace, the current moratorium leaves 48.5 million hectares of forest at risk.

Orangutan mother with baby (Photo: EPA/M.A.PUSHPA KUMARA)

Indonesian forests are home to endangered species, including orangutans

WRI found that the moratorium was not always upheld, as local officials were often unclear on which areas were protected. The organization has called for Indonesia's rainforests to be given permanent protection, something it says would contribute to the aims of United Nations climate talks in Paris later this year.

A partnership led by WRI called Global Forest Watch found that restricting logging concessions could boost the sustainability of agricultural production, resulting in long-term economic benefit.

Greenpeace expressed disappointment that the moratorium was not strengthened. "We expected more because the president has a background in forestry," Indradi said.

However, Indradi added that the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry had raised the hope that additional legislation outside the moratorium could close the loopholes - something that has broad public support.

"That's something we have to grab hold of and use to push for change to happen," he said.

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