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Ambassador Traavik replies to petition to save Aceh's forests

The Embassy has received thousands of e-mails from people worrying about the future of Aceh's forest if the new spatial plan proposed by the Aceh government is implemented.

Ambassador Stig Traavik's answer:

Thank you for forwarding the petition. It is motivating that people in Aceh, Indonesia and around the world are truly concerned about the sustainability of one of the world’s largest remaining tropical forests. The Government of Norway shares the same goal of protecting the valuable forests of Indonesia for the benefit of the Indonesian people and the global community.

Through Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, we will continue encouraging national and local governments in Indonesia and other forest countries to ensure sustainable management of their forests. We have raised the specific issue of Aceh’s forests with key decision makers in Indonesia, and will stay involved.

Petition from people worried about Aceh's forests:

Yang terhormat Stig Traavik (Ambassador of Norway),

With Great Respect, To the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdulah, Vice-Governor of Aceh, Muzakkir Manaf, and other relevant stakeholders. I am writing with regard to the pressing issue of an impending massive escalation in deforestation within Aceh Province. It has come to my attention through various media articles, that the great province of Aceh is at risk of losing several enormous tracts of protected forest due to the ending of the PIPIB process, and the currently proposed Aceh Provincial Spatial Plan being agressively promoted by the Aceh Parliament. In concetion to this, I would like to highlight some highly suspect comments made by some of the leading advisors involved in the Provincial Spatial Planning Process: ''The nature of the logging moratorium is that it's temporary, so it can be revoked any time,'' Saminuddin, Sydney Morning Herald Jan 15, 2013, suggesting that the moratorium on logging in Aceh should be revoked and logging concessions re-opened once again. The Chairman of Aceh’s spatial planning committee, Tgk. Anwar, confirmed that the proposed plan would “reduce the total forest cover of Aceh from its existing coverage of about 68 per cent of Aceh's total land area, to just 45 per cent.” This represents a loss of more than 1,200,000 hecatres of forests, and would include the destruction of areas inside of the Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area for its Environmental Protection Function that is protected by National Spatial Planning Law 26/2007 and Government Regulation 26/2008. "We checked the boundary of the Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve on the ground and found a discrepancy between the Ministry of Forestry map, and the actual conditions in the field," - Saminuddin, admitting in (January 28, 2013) that changes in the new proposed spatial plan are clearly being used to legitimise illegal plantations and other illegal activities already operating in Aceh. Dr Irfan, Jan 15, 2013 in Sydney Morning Herald “under the new plan there are more areas given for the people''. Yet GIS analysis clearly shows areas to be allocated for community uses are woefully insignificant when compared to areas that will be opened for plantations, mining and other large scale extractive industries. Furthermore, the proposed spatial plan has not included community representatives at any stage of its development process. This fact alone has upset numerous community members and Mukim and may also violate Aceh Governance Law Number 11, 2006, article 143. It also seems to belittle the role of Aceh’s people in determining their own future, despite the fact that they represent the very people who voted you yourselves into Government. Governor Zaini, and Vice-Governor Muzakkir, the above statements could be construed as seemingly reasonable to anyone not familiar with the complexities of spatial planning issues. But given these people are all senior aides and advisors to the provincial government, these statements can only be taken as being of major concern, since they clearly indicate that senior players in the spatial planning process either do not fully understand and appreciate the consequences of their decisions, or that they simply do not care about the implications their decisions have for others. I would also like to ask you why the previous Aceh Spatial Plan that was “approved in principle” by the Minister of Public Works on January 4th, 2012, has been replaced by a far less competent document. The previous plan was based on sound, verifiable and measurable data and extensive scientific analysis and consideration. It recommended many new areas for enhanced protection, for the purpose of mitigating floods and landslides. The new Spatial Plan, however, ignores these recommendations and on the contrary, opens up many previously protected forests for highly destructive mining, commercial logging, or large scale plantation concessions. These changes will result in numerous, entirely avoidable disasters following the proposed deforestation and landclearing. Disasters such as landslides, flash floods etc already cause considerable loss of life in Aceh each year, and incur considerable economic losses on local people and local governments (loss of agricultural produce, costs of reconstruction etc). These disasters are entirely preventable, expensive, and should be avoided at any cost, but will only increase in both frequency and severity under the Spatial Plan that Aceh’s Government is proposing right now. With respect, Bapak Governor Zaini, and Wagub Muzakkir, given that the current version of Aceh’s spatial plan is indeed so backward, lacking in science and common sense, and so obviously tailored for the benefit of only a very few powerful people, I must admit I am seriously worried that the advice you have been and are being offered by such people as Dr Irfan, Dr Raviq, and others, is both biased and extremely poor quality. In fact it is likely only to cause tremendous new damage to the province and place an increasingly heavy burden on Aceh’s people and local governments to pick up the peices it will leave behind. Instead of creating a legacy of sound management and good governance for yourselves, as Aceh’s current leaders, it is far more likely to undermine your good reputations and leave a legacy as the time when Aceh’s forests and natural resources were truly plundered for the very last time. The world watched with hope in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami as former Governor, Irwandi Yusuf positioned Aceh to receive huge financial benefits for the province, but was frustrated when he failed to deliver the beauracratic reform necessary to bring long lasting investments. The world was alarmed when he proceeded to issue an illegal palm oil permit to PT Kallista Alam for 1,605 hectares inside the protected Leuser Ecosystem, and loudly applauded your decisive action and strong leadership in revoking the same permit. Regarding the current Spatial Plan and its proposal to destroy over 1,200,000 hectares of protected forest, I wait in hope that you will show the strength of leadership you demonstrated in the above case, and remove poorly performing advisors from your Government, as you have with former Head of BP2T, M. Yahya, to reaffirm that you are indeed still able to take decisive action based on the best information available to you. As ever, the world is always ready to recognise and support strong leadership aimed at providing long term sustained econonic and environmental benefits for the betterment of all of Aceh’s people. I am basically writing to you as its seems clear you are still receiving poor advice and information from advisors whose motives appear to conflict with the long-term interests of Aceh, and of your own tenures as Governor and Vice Governor of Aceh. I urge you to immediately review all of the the technical assistance you have been provided in the development of the new proposed Provincial Spatial Plan. I also encourage donor countries and organisations to support you with financial assistance for low carbon development in Aceh, and I hope that you will quickly implement the beauracratic reforms necessary to facilitate this. Poor quality staff within the provincial government seem to be jeopardising this at the moment. A far more conducive environment is needed to allow new international and institutional investment aimed at strengthening and developing the great province of Aceh. I also write to support you and provide you with the strength to take a bold stance when addressing some of these major institutional issues that seriously threaten good governance of natural resources in Aceh. I have seen in the media, highly questionable technical information and advice even from some of your closest advisors, such as the BP2T and Dishutbun.. News coverage also strongly indicates that some personnel within Aceh’s various government departments, such as M. Yahya, former Head of BP2T, who are supposed to uphold the law and respect your leadership as Governor and Vice-Governor, have taken a highly questionable stance in regard to the handling of the high profile Tripa case causing much embarassment to Aceh in the eyes of the International community. I canunderstand that being surrounded by poor quality advisors can be difficult, but only you are in a position to address the problem. I therefore commend you for taking quick action to deal with M. Yahya, and encourage you to review the rest of your current advisory team in a similar manner. Governor Zaini, and Vice Governor Muzakkir, I encourage you to take the following steps:- 1. I stongly urge and respectfully request, that the plan to destroy more than 1,200,000 hectares of currently protected forests in Aceh is immediately and resoundedly rejected. 2. To undertake an immediate independent review of the currently proposed Aceh spatial plan, with a particular focus on the legal process it has followed, to avoid any legal conflicts that could arise for you or the Government of Aceh. 3. To develop a working group, together with local, national and international experts, to develop a new legally abiding spatial plan that maximises long-term and sustained, low carbon economic growth opportunties for the province. 4. To throughly review the spatial planning process followed to date and ensure it has followed correct procedures in accordance with local and national laws, and is based on the best available scientific data identifying areas that are both suitable, and unsuitable for low carbon development, both socially, and environmentally. 5. To deal swiftly and decisively with any advisors or governmental staff who have interferred with the planning process thus far, or have manipulated the process in favour of their own personal businessagendas, with total disregard for community safety, environmental integrity, and the global reputation of Aceh. It would indeed be a disaster at all levels of society if the existing spatial plan was approved. For Aceh’s people , in the districts and communities, it will increase the frequency and severity of natural disasters, and significantly increase the severity of human-wildlife conflicts. Aceh as a province alone will rapidly become one of the worlds leading regions for deforestation. This will almost certainly prevent Indonesia from reaching its National goals and promised for Reducing Carbon Emmissions from Forest Destruction and Degredation by 2020. Globally it would be a tragedy to see such a disaster unfold, even more so knowing that that there is still time avoid it and that by working together now it could all be prevented from happening. Do you really want to be remembered as the government that approved the trashing of Aceh’s natural resources and the extinction of species such as the Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant and orangutan? Please immediately STOP the fast-track process currently underway to push through the new version of Aceh’s Provincial Spatial Plan and recruit better quality advice in order to produce a replacement.I stand by to support you in any way I can and I hope you share my vision to see Aceh as the leading Province in Indonesia for low-carbon economic development. Mr Governor and Vice Governor, the great province of Aceh does indeed have the support of the world to tackle these important challenges, and we stand ready to celebrate your great leadership if you are willing to take them on.