RI’s Rainforest Burned in 2019 Larger Than Official Data

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A recent study showed that Indonesia’s forest areas damaged by forest fires in 2019 are almost twice that officially reported. These findings make environmental activists even more concerned about the government’s transparency on deforestation.

Indonesia, which has the largest rainforest outside of the Amazon and Congo, has cleared much of its land to turn it into palm oil, pulp and paper industries.

The World Bank said the fog from forest fires that swept through Indonesia and neighboring countries in 2019 caused 900,000 people to suffer from respiratory diseases and lost more than $5.2 billion, or IDR 74 trillion, in 2019.

In the Lutueng rainforest in Pidie District, Aceh, a boy sits while his mother gathers firewood for cooking. (Photo: REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva)

According to a study published in the journal Earth Systems Science Data In November, the forest area burned in 2019 was 3.1 million hectares – more than on the territory of Belgium. This figure is above the 1.6 million hectares data announced by the Ministry of Forestry.

“We observed a larger area of ​​damage than the official estimates, as breakthrough technology allowed us to detect smaller fires and larger fires,” said study co-author David Gaveau. Reuters.

“We’re using better satellite data, machine learning, and Google’s supercomputers,” he added.

But in keeping with official data, Gaveau said the study found that the rate of deforestation in Indonesia has fallen over the past four years, despite differences in calculations.

When Gaveau first reported his findings in December 2019, he said the government research was not reliable because it had not been peer-reviewed at the time.

Gaveau said he submitted the latest peer-reviewed findings to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

A Forest Department official dealing with forest fires did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters.

A group of cyclists rest in the rainforest of Burangrang Mountain on the outskirts of Bandung, West Java.  (Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)

A group of cyclists rest in the rainforest of Burangrang Mountain on the outskirts of Bandung, West Java. (Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)

The ministry said it had previously committed to reducing deforestation, but was unable to stop it completely as land clearing was needed for development.

In contrast, Indonesia aims to achieve “net carbon sequestration” from its forestry sector by 2030. This means that the industry will absorb more greenhouse gas emissions than it emits.

Wahyu Perdana, who campaigns for environmental rights group WALHI, urged the government to ensure transparency of deforestation data. Otherwise, it will be more difficult to use laws to control deforestation.

Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Asep Komarudin also said transparency is important for countries with forests under global climate agreements to avoid potential problems with international donors. [ah/ft]

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