Forestry, Forest Fires, and Climate Change in Indonesia (2017)

By Armida S. Alisjahbana & Jonah M. Busch on


In recent months, strong global growth, rebounding commodity prices, and relatively accommodative financial conditions have benefited the Indonesian economy. The first quarter of 2017 in Indonesia saw resilient GDP growth, moderate inflation, stable exchange rates, an increase in the growth of non-oil exports, and an investment upgrade from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. Investment growth, however, did not pick up enough to drive overall growth to a higher rate. The poor quality of banking-sector assets and the gaps in tax revenue—despite the fulfilment of the government’s tax-amnesty program—are two of the most immediate economic concerns. President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), who is well into the second half of his term, is under pressure to deliver on his development platform, which includes making progress in sustainable development and climate change mitigation. The effective management of forests is key to this platform. There has been longstanding tension over Indonesia’s forests between the protection of environmental values, including carbon storage, and the production of valuable commodities, including timber, palm oil, and pulpwood, which generate revenue and employment. We survey recent developments in four storylines related to forestry and climate change: first, Indonesia’s commitment to reducing emissions to 29%–41% below projected business-as-usual levels by 2030, as well as the international climate agreements and finance that can help achieve this commitment; second, land-use rights and regulations, including a moratorium on clearing, draining, or setting fires on peatland; third, measures to prevent catastrophic forest fires like those during the 2015 El Niño, including the establishment of the Peatland Restoration Agency; and, fourth, the actions of non-state actors, especially large agribusinesses, in managing forests and peatland. We conclude by discussing differences in the approaches of Jokowi’s administration and those of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration and by questioning whether Indonesia’s budgeted resources, actions, and results to date are commensurate with its climate commitments.

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