Minister highlights key points of revised peat regulation

(foresthints.news) - Following the recent signing of a revised government regulation on the protection and management of peat ecosystem by President Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya elaborated on why the regulation represented a real attempt to terminate business-as-usual practices in peatlands.

The minister took some time to point out the features of the revised peat regulation to foresthints.news last Friday (Dec 2) at the ministry complex.

Peat moratorium

Minister Siti Nurbaya said that the key feature of the revised peat regulation is the imposition of a moratorium on any new land clearing in peatlands and the establishment of protection and utilization zones in peat ecosystem areas for the planting of certain peat-friendly plants.

“Since early November last year, based on my circular letter, Joko Widodo’s administration has requested that all pulpwood and plantation companies refrain from carrying out new land clearing in peatlands. Now this prohibition has been enshrined in a level government regulation.”

She explained that the revised government regulation is ultimately aiming at a permanent moratorium on the exploitation of peatlands, except in designated utilization zones with specific types of peatland vegetation, instead of plants that dry out peatlands. The regulation also rules out the building of any new canals.

“Not only is the burning of peatlands outlawed, but so too is tolerating the burning of peatlands. This is an important aspect of the revised peat regulation and underlines our efforts to get rid of business-as-usual practices with regard to peatlands,” the minister affirmed.

Minister Siti Nurbaya also emphasized that the President’s main consideration in issuing the revised regulation was that peatlands are vulnerable ecosystems which have already endured great damage caused by last year’s forest and land fires. As such, intensive action is required to protect and manage these areas.

“The previous government regulation was revised having taken into consideration developments and the legal needs of the public.”

Mistakes in peatland management

According to Dr Siti Nurbaya, the revised peat regulation states that one of the causes of forest and land fires is the poor management of peatlands for the purpose of business activities.

She went on to say that the revised regulation also acknowledges the fact that last year’s widespread peat fires, especially those in the provinces of South Sumatra, Riau and Central Kalimantan, proved extremely difficult to extinguish.

“These were the issues underlying the need for this revised peat regulation,” the minister explained, adding that the temporary takeover of burned peatlands in concession areas by the government was also laid out in the revised regulation.

“The purpose of such temporary takeover is to perform monitoring and verifications. The sanctions (for any violations) include reducing the size of a concession permit, something greatly feared by permit holders,” the minister warned.

She also described how in mid-December last year, she issued a ministerial regulation for the process of taking over burned areas in forestry concessions.

“The monitoring and verification process remains underway, while we are also checking to what extent peat restoration efforts have been carried out this year.”

Minister Siti Nurbaya confirmed that the issuance of the revised peat regulation means that companies whose concessions are burned are to be given a maximum of 30 days to take measures to restore the burned peatland ecosystems concerned. If they fail to do this, the government will take over this task and charge the company for all the expenses involved.

“The government is unwilling to bear the costs of restoring peatlands that are burned in concession areas. If companies fail to comply with the revised peat regulation, they will be forced to face administrative sanctions from the government,” she cautioned.

Water level compliance

The peatland ecosystem damage criterion in utilization zones, which stipulates that the groundwater level of peatlands is more than 0.4 meters below the peat surface, continues to be used, but this water level is to be measured at the point of compliance with a measuring procedure specified by the Environment and Forestry Minister. The minister expanded in meticulous detail on this point.

“Many factors are taken into account in determining the point of compliance, such as soil characteristics, topography, water management zones, canals and waterworks. However, most importantly, we need to see the abandonment of business-as-usual practices. We are striving to achieve sustainability in the business sector, not trying to kill the business sector. I really need to get this point across.”

Those parties which have a stake in issues surrounding water level compliance, the minister continued, will definitely be involved in various dialogues and policy exercises before the measuring procedure for the water level at the point of compliance is specified.

Power of central government strengthened

Minister Siti Nurbaya declared that the revised government regulation would serve to boost the central government’s power in protecting and managing peatlands.

The minister argued that the protection and management peatlands requires full and strong leadership from the central government and that the revised government regulation would make this possible. She was quick to back this assertion with a pertinent example.

“For instance, the establishment of peatland protection and management plans by local governments must first be put forward for technical consultation and then obtain approval from the environment minister. If they would like to make any revisions to these plans, this needs to be accompanied by a recommendation from the minister.”

Wrapping up her interview with foresthints.news, Minister Siti Nurbaya reiterated that President Joko Widodo's administration was very serious about cutting ties with business-as-usual practices that have been carried out in peatlands over at least the past two decades. To end these practices for once and for all, she explained, it is necessary to begin by imposing a total moratorium on new land clearing and canal developments in peatlands.

In closing, the minister posed a question emphasizing the government’s undoubted commitment to the issue. “If the current administration wasn't serious about protecting peatlands, why would we have come this far? I need to underline this.”