Although environmentalists have praised several new policies issued by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, they have also voiced concerns over environmental damage that might come as a result of the state’s infrastructure development push.
“This year , the Jokowi administration began to show direction in protecting the environment,” said the Jakarta-based Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) in its 2017 annual report.
“However, there were also policies that caused public concern because they did not optimally protect the environment.”
Separately, the Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) said progress was slow in land conflict settlements, an issue Jokowi pledged to resolve in his presidential campaign in 2014. As many as 659 land conflict cases were recorded in 2017, a more than 50-percent increase from the previous year.
In reviewing the country’s environmental policies, ICEL praised the government’s move in September to ratify the Minamata Convention, an international treaty that obliges parties to take action to eliminate mercury pollution.
The government ratified the convention because of concerns over contamination from artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sites, which depend heavily on mercury. The ratification followed the issuance of a decree by Jokowi in March that stipulates seven directives related to the use of mercury in ASGM sites, such as calling on related stakeholders to monitor the distribution chain of illegal mercury, which is harmful to both humans and the environment.
The ICEL said in its annual report the ratification was an important move and the government had to implement the convention through a “comprehensive national action plan and ensure cooperation among related parties.”
The ICEL later criticized a policy issued by the Jokowi administration in April that allows changes to be made in spatial planning documents to support infrastructure construction projects. It said the regulation “tolerated efforts to violate the spatial planning of provinces, regencies and municipalities,” similar to what had happened in the development of a coal-fired power plant in Cirebon, West Java.
The West Java administration issued last year an environmental permit for the power plant project after it was included in the National Strategic Program, leading to a change in the province’s spatial planning regulation.
The move contradicted a decision made by the Bandung Administrative Court in 2016, in which it rejected the power plant project because it had not been included in Cirebon’s spatial planning documents, which in fact had designated the area as a protected forest.
The protection of forests was made a priority by the Jokowi administration following massive forest and land fires in 2015 that claimed hundreds of lives and caused hundreds of millions of US dollars in losses.
As efforts to restore damaged peatland caused by fires had fallen short, the government in 2017 became more aggressive in making sure that companies protected peatland within their concession areas.
More than 30 companies were required to revise their work plans in 2017 to comply with an existing peatland protection regulation. However, progress has been sluggish as a result of a legal conflict between the government and timber giant Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), which is controlled by a Singapore-based corporation owned by Indonesian tycoon Sukanto Tanoto.
Although the Jakarta Administrative Court issued a ruling in December in favor of the government in the case, in which RAPP questioned the government’s decision to invalidate its work plans for not complying with peatland protection rules, the legal defense team of the company said it had considered taking another legal move.
Companies, notably palm oil companies, were main actors in land conflicts last year, the KPA said in its annual report published in December.
Environmentalists praise new policies issued by President, criticize progress Govt aggressive in 2017 in protecting peatland in concession areas