Jakarta (Antara News) -- It is crucial that peatlands in Indonesia are protected as they cover some 22 million hectares of land in the country, equivalent to five percent of the global peatland cover.

Peat is partially decayed vegetation that accumulates over thousands of years, growing at a rate of about one millimeter per year. Peatlands, which cover about three percent of the planet, are a major depository of carbon as the areas store one-third of the worlds soil carbon.

According to www.norway.or.id, peatlands in Indonesia store 132 gigatons of carbon dioxide, which is a considerable amount when compared to the 168 gigatons of carbon dioxide stored by the worlds largest rainforest, the Amazon.

In May 2013, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed the Presidential Instruction No. 6/2013 on moratorium of new licenses to clear forests in the areas of primary natural forests and peatlands.

This move, which added another two years of forest moratorium, expected to protect more than 43 million hectares of primary forests and peatlands throughout the nation.

As the peatland cover continued to decline, the Indonesian government issued a new Government Regulation (PP) on Peatland Ecosystem Protection and Management in September.

The regulation, however, has garnered criticism from both environmental NGOs and forest-related businessmen, but for completely different reasons.

Recently, the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) told the press that the new PP to book perpetrators behind the destruction of peatlands was not strong enough to have a deterrent effect.

According to Walhis Forest and Plantation Campaign Manager Zenzi Suhadi, the process by which the regulations were issued was not transparent and did not involve public participation.

The new PP was ordered by Law No. 32/2009 on the Protection and Management of the Environment (UU PPLH) to prevent the destruction of peatlands.

Walhi claimed that it did not have access to the new PP documents.

The NGO further said that it will be disappointed if the PP is based on its final draft, which only carries administrative sanction against those destroying peatlands, in contract with the UU PPLH that deems the destruction of the ecosystem a criminal act.

Forest Political Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia Indonesia, Yuyun Indradi, had earlier urged the president against signing the peatland regulation in his last days in office. After serving the country for a decade as the sixth president, President Yudhoyonos term in office comes to an end on October 20.

Indradi had stated that Indonesias peatland forests were in a critical condition and needed strong, comprehensive protection.

From the business perspective, it is feared that the new government regulation will threaten the Rp136 trillion investment in oil palm plantations and lead to layoffs of 340 thousand workers.

The regulation might also hinder plans to invest Rp240 trillion to expand oil palm plantations, which has the potential to create jobs for 400,000 workers and 300,000 plasma farmers, Secretary General of the Indonesian Oil Palm Producers Association (Gapki) Joko Supriyono noted.

"The peatland regulation will affect not only the oil palm plantation companies, but plasma farmers as well. The government should take social and economic impacts into consideration before issuing the rigid regulation," he explained.

Indonesia produced 26 million tons of palm oil last year, contributing US$21.2 billion to the countrys foreign exchange coffers, Supriyono pointed out at a public dialog on the "impact of the peatland regulation on the continuation of sustainable oil palm investment" organized by the Indonesian Association of Journalists (PJI) recently .

At present, seven percent of the worlds 385 million hectares of peatlands are in Indonesia, he added. Investments in the countrys oil palm plantations and timber estates could collapse if the regulation is implemented.

One of the fundamental factors considered detrimental to the investment climate is the obligation to maintain a water surface height of at least 40 centimeters. In such conditions, perennial plants such as acacia and oil palm will be unable to grow as they will be constantly inundated.

Furthermore, implementing the regulation will cause investments in the 1.7 million hectares of oil palm plantations on peatlands to collapse, Supriyono further said, adding that this was why the government should immediately revise the peatland regulation that was deliberated without involving the business world.

"If the regulation harms the business world, we will most likely apply for a judicial review by involving peatland experts," he remarked.

Another strong criticism came from Nana Suparna, chairman of the Indonesian Forestry Businessmen Association that is in charge of industrial forestry.

The implementation of the new regulation could automatically stop all activities of forestry industries, which could lead to material losses worth Rp103 trillion per planting cycle and also trigger massive layoffs, Suparna said.

Enforcing the regulation could also reduce the number of active forestry industries to 27 percent from the current 45 percent because 60 percent of these operate in peatland areas.

"There will also be an annual loss of US$5.4 billion in foreign exchange, earned from the production of 16.8 million tons of pulp and paper, manufactured from materials obtained from industrial forests. Some 300 thousand workers could lose their jobs," he explained.

In response to the denunciation, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said that the regulation was still eligible for revision through a judicial review.

"This is a democratic and law-abiding country. If you disagree with the government regulation on peatland protection, please demand a revision and re-evaluation by following the legal procedure," he stated.

The new regulation was drafted at the initiative of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, with inputs from the forestry ministry.

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Fardah Assegaf
Copyright © ANTARA 2014