Indonesia pledges to protect Sumatra's remaining forests

Posted: 9 October 2008

Under an agreement announced today, Indonesia has made a commitment to protect the remaining forests and critical ecosystems of Sumatra, an Indonesian island that holds some of the world's most diverse - and endangered - forests. It is an island where forest clearance has ravaged half of its forest cover in the last 30 years, causing massive forest fires that have sent smoke haze over the island and neighbouring Malaysia.

Stream in tropical rainforest Sumatra
Stream in tropical rainforest Sumatra
Kerinci Seblat National Park Stream in the tropical rainforest Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo © Mauri RAUTKARI / WWF-Canon
This first island-wide commitment to protect Sumatra's stunning biodiversity, is seen as an historic move by conservationists, including WWF, which jointly announced the pledge at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.

Sumatra is the only place on Earth where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist. One forest on the island, Tesso Nilo, has the greatest vascular plant diversity of any lowland forest ever studied - with more than twice the plant species in the Amazon.

The commitment has been endorsed by governors of all provinces across Sumatra, the world's sixth-largest island, and by four Ministers. "This agreement commits all the Governors of Sumatra's ten provinces, along with the Indonesian Ministries of Forestry, Environment, Interior and Public Works, to restore critical ecosystems in Sumatra and protect areas with high conservation values," said Hermien Roosita, Deputy Minister of Environment. "The Governors will now work together to develop ecosystem-based spatial plans that will serve as the basis for future development on the island."

Carbon emissions

WWF, CI, FFI, WCS, and other conservation groups working in Sumatra have agreed to help implement the political commitment to protect what remains of the island's species-rich forests and critical areas. The island has lost 48 per cent of its natural forest cover since 1985.

Sumatran (Bornean) rhinoceros
Sumatran (Bornean) rhinoceros
Sumatran (Bornean) rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni). The rhino is believed to be one of a population of as few as 13 individuals. Photo © WWF-Malaysia/Raymond ALFRED
"WWF is eager to help make this commitment a reality to protect the magnificent tropical forests across Sumatra. These forests shelter some of the world's rarest species and provide livelihoods for millions of people," said Mubariq Ahmad, CEO of WWF-Indonesia. More than 13 per cent of Sumatra's remaining forests are peat forests, which sit atop the deepest peat soil in the world; clearing these forests is a major source of carbon emissions that cause climate change. "By protecting these forests from deforestation, Sumatra will provide a significant contribution to mitigate global climate change," said Marlis Rahman, Vice Governor of West Sumatra Province.

"There are a lot of challenges in the future to ensure the successful implementation of the commitment," said Noor Hidayat, Director of Conservation Areas at the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. "A broad-based effort involving local and national government officials, financial institutions, NGOs, and communities needs to work together to make this commitment a reality. "We are calling international communities to support us in implementing the commitment on the ground," Rahman said.

Much will depend on the government's ability to control forest clearance by peasant farmers and by local and foreign firms intent on logging the trees and/or converting the forest into lucrative palm oil plantations.

Related links:

Forest dwellers of Sumatra are losing their home

Sumatra's burning forests take climate toll

Illegal logging threatens tigers and tribes in Sumatra

Greening the palm oil industry could help save Indonesia's forests