Forested areas greater than the size of the Netherlands have been burned in Indonesia in the past five years, with 30 percent of the fires occurring on pulpwood and palm oil concessions, environmental group Greenpeace said yesterday.
Analysis of official data showed that 4.4 million hectares of land burned from 2015 to last year, with 1.3 million hectares of that lying in the concession areas, Greenpeace said.
The group’s report said that eight of the 10 palm companies with the largest burned areas in their concessions for the five years have not been sanctioned.
Indonesia’s new jobs creation law, which activists say favors businesses at the expense of the environment, is “rolling out a red carpet” for more deforestation, it said.
“Year after year, they [firms] have broken the law by allowing forests to go up in flames,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Indonesian forests campaign global head Kiki Taufik said.
The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry did not respond to a request for comment.
In February, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered government officials to find a permanent solution to prevent annual forest fires.
Indonesia has the biggest forests outside the Amazon and the Congo, and environmentalists say that its remaining reserves might be exploited under the new law.
The government says that the law aims to boost investment and competitiveness and create better quality jobs.
Among the changes in the new law that worry environmentalists is the removal of a minimum forest area.
All of the nation’s islands were mandated to have 30 percent forest cover, a benchmark policymakers call arbitrary and want replaced with metrics they deem more relevant.
Three of the five companies Greenpeace said had the largest burned areas in their concessions from are suppliers to Indonesia’s biggest conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group, and one of the country’s largest pulp and paper companies, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).
A spokeswoman for APP, which is a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Group, said that the company has spent US$150 million on a fire management system, and that it continues to help local communities transition away from slash-and-burn land clearing toward more sustainable methods.
A spokeswoman for Golden Agri-Resources, a subsidiary of Sinar Mas Group that operates palm oil plantations, could not immediately provide comment.
Indonesian palm oil producer association GAPKI declined to comment and referred Reuters to the ministry.
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