An Indonesian court has instructed the governor of Aceh province in northern Sumatra to revoke the licence granted to the palm oil company PT Kallista Alam, accused of destroying large areas of the Tripa peat swamp.
Environmental activists have hailed the move. The group Walhi (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) said the decision by the State Administrative High Court in Medan was a victory for all those involved in fighting to save Tripa. The forest’s destruction sparked a widespread international protest and 10,000 people signed an online petition.
Walhi urged the governor to act rapidly to revoke PT Kallista Alam’s licence and to immediately evaluate all plantation permits given to companies in the Tripa area.
The group also called for all legal action currently being taken against companies operating in Tripa to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Walhi’s national executive director, Abetnego Tarigan, said the court decision was a precedent for environmental conservation efforts and the enforcement of environmental law in Indonesia.
“For once, this is a decision that favours the environment and the people. It should be used as a reference point by the government. There should be a review of all forest industry licences in Indonesia.”
The court decision was also welcomed by the REDD+ task force. The “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” initiative is aimed at boosting efforts to conserve and sustainably manage forests and increase carbon stock.
“We hope there will be no more mismanagement in the process of permit issuance,” said Mas Achmad Santosa, who chairs the task force’s legal review and law enforcement working group. Santosa said the land utilisation permit issued to PT Kallista Alam was invalid.
In August 2011, the then governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, issued a licence to PT Kallista Alam to convert 1,605 hectares of the Tripa peat forest into a palm oil plantation. The forest comes within the protected Leuser ecosystem and, as such, should be off-limits for conversion.
The area was originally included in a moratorium map that indicates which areas are off-limits for conversion, but was absent from a revised version. It has now been re-declared a protected zone.
PT Kallista Alam is accused of slashing and burning large swathes of the peat forest, which is home to the world’s densest population of the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan. Up to 100 orangutans are thought to have perished in recent forest clearing and peat burning.
There were some 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans in the area in the 1990s, but only a couple of hundred at most are left today.
Ian Singleton, conservation director of the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation and head of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, says the destruction of Tripa threatens to exterminate the orangutan population in the area.
Orangutans are not the only animals in jeopardy in the Tripa swamp; the area has also been home to Sumatran tigers, Malayan sun bears and other endangered and protected wildlife.
Peatlands lock up huge amounts of carbon, so it is essential to conserve them. Indonesia’s peatlands cover less than 0.1 per cent of the Earth’s surface, but, because of the way they are being destroyed, they are now responsible for 4 per cent of global emissions every year. No less than ten million of Indonesia’s 22.5 million hectares of peatland have already been deforested and drained.
Photo: Carlos Quiles