A coalition of Indonesian NGOs have made a case for the extension and the strengthening of the palm oil expansion moratorium set to expire in September 2021.
The three-year moratorium signed in September 2018 by Indonesian President Joko Widodo is one part of the policy responses to the loss of forests and peatlands and the 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis. The two other pillars are the moratorium on the clearing of primary forests and peatland, and a regulation on peatlands drainage.
The palm oil expansion moratorium covers four main activities: Cancelling licences and investments for new permits, and for expanding existing oil palm plantations within forest areas; evaluating existing oil palm licences and business use rights in forests; redistributing to communities those forest areas released from oil palm production; and strengthening support to smallholders and productivity through compliance with sustainable oil palm schemes.
The moratorium has had limited direct impacts on the protection of natural forests − possibly, as the RSPO suggested in 2019, because of the lack of baseline data against which to measure progress and the lack of monitoring mechanisms. This means NGOs have been left to take up the watchdog role.
But the political and legal argument the moratorium provides is invaluable. Last June, for example, the local government of West Papua province revoked permits for 12 oil palm concessions covering an area twice the size of Los Angeles. It further committed to give Indigenous Peoples access to this land. Extending and reinforcing the moratorium gives local leaders more power to deliver on the needs of their populations.
Indonesian NGOs argue that the moratorium should be legally binding, which is currently not the case. They also say that specific targets should be defined for, among others, evaluating whether procedures to allocate palm oil plantations have been followed; the amount of hectares of natural forest cover within the permit area to be protected; and the type of productivity support that smallholders will receive. The NGOs demand disclosure of information about how the moratorium has been implemented − progress and lack thereof − and seek greater support to local governments to take corrective action when necessary.
The EU is soon to release regulatory proposals to minimise the risks of deforestation associated with its consumption of commodities such as palm oil. In parallel, discussions about palm oil sustainability are taking place within the EU-Indonesia bilateral trade agreement negotiations. It is crucial that EU decision makers seriously consider Indonesian NGOs’ demands and integrate these into their proposals. Given the current climate and biodiversity – and future haze − crises, it is essential that the EU addresses the issue of forest loss through both demand and the supply side measures.