Global Forest Watch (GFW), pending the upcoming release of its 2020 tree cover loss data, is estimating that forest loss in Indonesia may have continued its declined for a fourth year in a row in 2020.
“Forest loss in Indonesia has declined three years in a row, a trend that may continue in 2020,” Global Forest watch said in an article in its latest Forest Global Review adding that the estimation was obtained based on supplementary information, including Global Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) deforestation alerts, recent high-resolution satellite imagery, and reporting from the field.
It said that primary forest loss in Indonesia decreased by five percent in 2019 compared to the year before, marking the third year in a row of lower levels of loss.
“Indonesia has not seen such low levels of primary forest loss since the beginning of the century,” it said.
Global Forest Watch said that the decrease came despite an intense 2019 fire season, which in previous years had resulted in large areas of primary forest loss. The government reported that more than 1.6 million hectares were burned in 2019, the second highest after the 2015 fire season.
A significant share of the 2019 fires occurred in carbon-rich peatlands, with large impacts on carbon emissions. Delays in detection due to cloud cover and haze could mean some of the damage from fires occurring in late 2019 may not be detected until 2020, which may result in an increase in forest loss due to fires in the upcoming 2020 data compared to the previous year.
However, it added that 2020 had a much milder fire season, with fire alerts through the end of November “below average” compared to normal.
“Several Indonesian policies have likely contributed to this decline, including increased law enforcement to prevent forest fires and land clearing and the now-permanent moratorium on forest clearing in areas designated as peatlands or primary natural forests,” it said.
But it also pointed out that GLAD alerts have detected several instances of tree cover loss associated with oil palm plantation expansion and logging so far in 2020, particularly in Kalimantan, but the vast majority appeared to be outside of the forest moratorium area.
Even though the losses may be legal, those that occurred in primary forests, would have outsized impacts on biodiversity and carbon emission.
In the same Global Forest Review, Indonesia was ranked fifth in a list of top 10 countries for total tree cover Loss from 2001 to 2019 with the loss put at 26.8 million hectares. The top loss was in Russia with 64 million hectares, followed by Brazil with 56.6 million hectares, Canada with 42.9 million hectares and the United States in fourth place with 40.3 million hectares.
But the same Review also placed Indonesia in second place after Brazil in the list of the top 10 countries for humid tropical primary forest loss from 2002 to 2019 loosing 9.5 million hectares of such forests.
It said that in Indonesia, most tree cover loss is associated with commodity production, especially large-scale timber and oil palm plantations. Human-induced fires related to agricultural activity also caused large-scale forest destruction and led to harmful smog and carbon emissions.
Fires were particularly prevalent during the El Niño events of 1997–98 and 2015–16. But starting in 2017, Indonesia saw a large reduction in tree cover loss, likely related to government policies to prevent land clearing and fires.