New data indicate deforestation in Indonesia is reaching record highs

30.11.2017

Cleared land in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, with haze from forest fires in the background Photo: Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment

Forest loss in Indonesia is reaching the highest levels since detailed measurements began according to new data published this week by the World Resources Institute, amid weak law enforcement and a failure to address the root causes of the crisis.

Total tree cover loss was recorded as 2.4 million hectares (ha) in 2016, up from 1.7m ha in 2015 and exceeding the previous record, set in 2012.

Forest loss within primary forests also hit a new high in 2016, surpassing 900,000ha. This was driven in large part by a spike in clearance for plantations in Papua, home to some of the last large tracts of intact forest in the country.

The increased loss was partly attributable to fires which ravaged the country in 2015. Cloud cover meant that, while many of the fires occurred in 2015, tree loss wasn’t recorded by satellites until 2016. However, even taking a broader perspective by using a rolling three-year average as WRI recommends, deforestation is reaching highs not previously seen.

Case studies suggest that continued rampant illegality is playing a central role in the ongoing deforestation crisis. Earthsight analysis in November 2015 showed that the Korean firm Korindo was illegally using fire to clear forest on two of its palm oil concessions in Papua. 

Subsequent analysis found the firm had destroyed 30,000 hectares of forest on the island since 2013. Korindo initially denied the accusations, but later announced a moratorium on land development in its palm oil concessions after losing several of its biggest buyers.

Firespots inside Korindo's PT Tunas Sawaerma oil palm concession on Indonesian Papua

Elsewhere, drone footage gathered in September 2016 found widespread evidence of the criminal use of fire to clear forest in Riau province on the island of Sumatra. A senior official in Riau has estimated that the province contains a million hectares of illegal oil palm plantations.

Campaigners have also raised concerns over the failure of the Indonesian police to properly investigate the causes of the 2015 fires. In July 2016, police in Riau formally closed the cases against 15 palm oil companies alleged to have started fires in the province. 

The police said the fires were lit by local communities outside the boundaries of large-scale palm oil concessions. Subsequent field research by the network Jikalahari unearthed extensive evidence contradicting this verdict.

Illegal clearances have continued through 2017. Oil palm firms supplying some of the world’s biggest traders have repeatedly broken a moratorium on clearances in the Leuser Ecosystem

Previously, a 2014 study estimated that 80% of the deforestation that took place in Indonesia between 2000 and 2012 was illegal. 

Recent in-depth investigations by Earthsight have exposed the corrupt political interests that underpin this problem.

More from Blog

Siberia / Ikea, FSC actions on Siberia illegal logging scandal are a start. In our climate crisis, they must do much more

Continue reading
Grand Theft Chaco / An Illustrated guide to Europe’s role in Paraguay forest destruction

Continue reading
EUTR / Swedish court fines company for Ukrainian timber purchases that flouted EU law, following Earthsight investigation

Continue reading
У 2019 р. розслідування Earthsight засвідчило, що шведські й італійські фірми імпортували деревину через українську компанію, пов’язану з Віктором Сівцем, який, як відомо, був...

Continue reading
Open Letter / EU transparency needed after key laws delayed



Continue reading
Untamed Timber / Pressure mounts on US, EU to probe Brazilian timber imports

Continue reading
Open Letter / Authorities urged to investigate cases of illegal deforestation in Alto Paraguay

Continue reading
Grand Theft Chaco / An Earthsight response to the environment ministry of Paraguay

Continue reading
У червні цього року Earthsight опублікувала результати детального дослідження, де було показано, як деревина, незаконно заготовлена в одних із останніх європейських пралісів в...

Continue reading
Sign the petition / Ikea chairs aren't worth the destruction of our natural forests

Continue reading

Stay up to date with all Earthsight news & updates

Receive email updates for the latest news and insights from Earthsight and be among the first to read our new investigations.

We keep your data secure and don’t share anything with third parties. Read full terms.