Indonesian logging ban covers primary forests

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Indonesia on Friday banned logging in primary forests and peatlands for two years as part of a $1 billion deal with Norway to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, officials said.

But environmentalists doubted whether the long-awaited moratorium would protect any significant areas of forest that were not already protected, or make any reductions to the massive archipelago's carbon footprint.

"It still creates potential for Indonesia to destroy its natural forests," said Elfian Effendi, executive director of policy analysis group Greenomics.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree authorising the moratorium late Thursday but its details were released on Friday, a year after he secured financial backing for the plan during talks in Oslo.

Presidential advisor on climate change Agus Purnomo told reporters the moratorium would cover primary forests and peatlands but not natural forests as environmental groups such as Greenpeace had hoped.

Logging would be banned in "forests that haven't been touched by humans and where there has been no concession activity before," he said.

"With the two-year moratorium, the government will have the time to improve permits, standardisation and other things that can be developed in the context of emissions reduction from deforestation and use of peatlands," Purnomo said.

The ban on new logging concessions -- valuable assets for pulp, paper and palm oil companies -- applies to 64.02 million hectares (158.2 million acres) of primary forests and 24.5 million hectares of peatland, he said.

An official statement said the moratorium was "intended to balance and harmonise economic development with social development, cultural promotion and environmental protection".

It was part of a "comprehensive national effort" to combat climate change through a UN-backed scheme known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

REDD promises to arrest the release of greenhouse gases from the destruction of forests and carbon-dense peatlands by having rich nations pay emerging countries to preserve their jungles and woodlands.

Rampant deforestation is one of the main reasons Indonesia is the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China.

The Indonesian government has set goals to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent while at the same time doubling palm oil production by 2020. It is already the world's biggest palm oil exporter.

The moratorium was meant to take effect in January but was delayed amid aggressive lobbying from the palm oil and paper industries, which wanted to limit its reach to primary forests and secure their vast existing concessions.

Indonesia's powerful palm oil body said the logging ban would not affect existing concessions and would have little or no impact on the industry.

Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam said the moratorium would have to be backed up by improvements in forest governance, a possible reference to corruption and collusion between illegal loggers, the military and the forestry ministry.

The government is trying to balance its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions without hurting its goals of achieving economic growth of seven percent by 2014.

Purnomo said several "development objectives" were being pursued in tandem, including environmental conservation, economic growth, emissions reduction and good governance.

"Indonesia has been on the right track, heading into a prosperous and sustainable future, and will not return to past development practices that damage the environment at the expense of future generations," he said.

It was not immediately clear what rights, if any, indigenous peoples and traditional forest inhabitants would have under the moratorium.

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