Greenpeace urges Indonesia to strengthen laws to protect forest, peatland

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International environmentalist organization Greenpeace urged Wednesday the administration of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to strengthen laws that protect all forest and peatlands before his presidency term ends.

The strengthened laws were ultimately needed to save forest and peatland in Sumatra from being destroyed by palm oil and paper firms operating in the island. "How President Yudhoyono deals with this emerging global threat and public health emergency will define his green legacy. Industrial plantation companies are turning parts of Sumatra into a giant tinderbox,"Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest Campaigner Yuyun Indradi said.

According to results of new mapping analysis from Greenpeace, fires were five times more likely to occur on peatland, while 75 percent of peat fires were located in Riau province alone close to urban centers like Singapore.

Modelling from researchers in 2012 attributes an average of 110, 000 deaths a year in the region to peat and forest fires, primarily associated with long-term seasonal exposure to smoke particles. The fires are also responsible for destroying people's livelihoods.

Peatlands were perhaps the world's most critical carbon stores and typically saturated with water. They become prone to fire when cleared and drained for industrial scale plantations for palm oil and pulp and paper.

Greenpeace's analysis shows that fire hotspots in 2013 were 3.5 times more frequent on deforested peat as of 2011 than on peat that remained forested. The province of Riau, home to a significant portion of Indonesia's plantation sector, accounts for just 5 percent of Indonesia's land area, but 40 percent of all fires hotspots and nearly three-quarters of all fire hotspots on peat.

Greenpeace learned that the moratorium on forest exploitation has been implemented by President Yudhoyono in forest areas that hosted 30 percent of fire hotspots and it failed to prevent the fires. "The president was keen to tout a green economy transition. The moratorium was a step in the right direction, but little has been done since,"Yuyun said.

Firms including Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle and plantation firms like Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Asia Pulp and Papers (APP), Wilmar International and more recently Procter & Gamble (P&G) have pledged to eliminate forest destruction from their supply chains following global pressure and campaigning from Greenpeace. Endi

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