IN THE MENTAWAI ISLANDS THREATENS FORESTS, INDIGENOUS LIVELIHOODS AND CLIMATE MITIGATION EFFORTS
YCMM (Mentawai ORCID in English), a civil society organization working on climate, forest and indigenous issues the Mentawai, reports that a new logging permit has recently been granted by the government of Indonesia in the Mentawai archipelago. It authorizes PT. Sumber Permata Sipora (PT. SPS) to cut down forests on the island of Sipora. The permit is valid for 30 years and covers more than the third of the surface of this small island located 150 km off the coast of Sumatra. It can still be cancelled before the 4th of September 2023, if it does obtain an environmental impact assessment needed for the company to start its logging activities.
Rifai Lubis, director of the Mentawai organisation for climate, nature and indigenous peoples (Mentawai ORCID in English/YCMM in Indonesian), said:
“The forests and natural resources of the Mentawai islands are a continuous target for exploitation and deforestation by the government of Indonesia, despite such permits violating the government’s climate commitments, as well as its own laws on protecting small islands from natural resource exploitation. Deforestation on a third of the surface of such a small island would be a disaster in terms of climate mitigation, loss of biodiversity and would highly affect the livelihood of the Mentawai indigenous people who depend on this forest to live. Logging on Sipora for over 30 years would also release substantial amounts of carbon, making it much harder for the government of Indonesia to reach its climate goals for 2030. We ask the government of Indonesia to cancel this permit”.
The permit was granted to PT. SPS on the 28th of March 2023 by the Investment Coordinating Board in the name of the Minister of environment and forests (BKPM atas nama KLHK), but it is only four months later in in July 2023 that this information was made public to the communities who live in Sipora and to civil society. The area the permit is granted on is classified as “Kawasan hutan” (state forest area) and covers 20,706 hectares of the island that only has a surface of 61,518 hectares.
Indonesia has been praised for its sinking deforestation rate, and efforts to curb deforestation.
In April 2023, the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry released their road map with its climate actions towards 2030. The FOLU Net Sink, aims at reaching a net sink condition by 2030 by reducing emissions from the land and forest sectors and reach emission levels of up to minus 140 Mt carbon emissions by 2030, and minus 304 Mt carbon emissions by 2050.
Yet a few weeks earlier, the logging permit was granted to clear Sipora’s forests.
Indonesia also committed to broader results in the MoU with the Norwegian government. It its long term carbon and climate resilience strategy, Indonesia has also a vision to achieve a net-zero emission by 2060 or sooner.
Rifai Lubis comments that “The carbon stock in this forest is substantial since it was never logged industrially. In such concessions, it is usually clear-cut logging. This will increase emissions from forest and land use for Indonesia. Indonesia made climate commitments just a couple of weeks after this permit was granted with the FOLU net sink. Granting this permit goes clearly against these commitments”.
Small islands are vulnerable
UNEP says that climate adaptation and mitigation is particularly important on small islands to fight nature loss and climate change. The IPCC report from 2022 confirms that small islands are increasingly affected by climate change.
Rifai Lubis comments that “Indonesia is breaching its own laws when granting this logging permit on Sipora. Forests and natural resources on a small island are legally protected under Indonesian laws. We know how vulnerable small islands are to erosion, rising sea levels and climate change. The tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004 also taught us that it is important to keep forest and mangrove coverage on our islands to protect the population and the landscape.”
Small islands are protected in Indonesian law. Law no.7 on the management of coastal zones and small islands (2007) and its amendment in Law no.1 (2014) does not authorize exploiting natural resources on small islands. Sipora is classified as a small island according to these laws, and therefore should be protected from such permits especially in an area classified as “Kawasan hutan” or state forest area.
Indigenous peoples live on all three islands of the Mentawai archipelago: Siberut, Sipora and Pagai. Mentawai ORCID/YCMM has been fighting for indigenous rights since its creation, and especially their right to land and natural resources.
Rifai Lubis informs that “The area of the permit is in fact indigenous territory, where Mentawai people practice a traditional agroforestry system called pumonean. Indigenous communities depend on this huge area of their island to have access to water, food and traditional medicine. Cutting down a third of the island would affect their livelihoods significantly and in effect expropriate them from their ancestral lands”.
A local community member of Mentawai community in Sipora says “We use this forest to get rottan and cloves that we later sell on markets and use to pay school fees for our children. We also grow patchouli, fetch water from rivers and make sure it is well protected. With this permit I don’t know what will happen”.
Rifai Lubis adds that “According to the Indonesian Constitution, indigenous culture is protected, and the government is therefore violating Mentawai indigenous peoples’ rights by granting such permits and exploiting the resources without their consent. There has not been any free prior and informed consent process here, and communities are just watching authorities decide the fate of their land and means to survive. The environmental impact assessment still needs to be approved for PT.SPS to start activities, but according to the rules, the company only needs an “input” and not consent for the EIA to be approved”.
In its constitution, the Republic of Indonesia “recognizes and respects traditional communities along with their customary rights” (art.18.b) and in its enhanced NDC (nationally determined contribution) for 2022, Indonesia reiterates that it “respects, promotes and considers its obligation on human rights, the right to health, the right of adat communities (Indonesia: Masyarakat Hukum Adat)”.
Deforestation would also affect biodiversity. Dr Wilson Novarino, a biologist from Andalas University informs that “There are endemic species in the forests of Sipora, such as four types of primates which will be threatened by large-scale logging activities. Their habitat and range will be narrower, because the forest will be fragmented”.
In the environmental impact assessment, PT.SPS has to document the potential impacts of the logging activities on the environment but such information is usually just a formality to get the approval.
Still hope for a cancellation
Before PT.SPS can start its logging activities, it needs to obtain an environmental impact assessment in the 160 days after the permit was granted, starting on 28th of March 2023. This means that the deadline is on the 4th of September 2023. Having known about this permit for only a couple of weeks, most of the time civil society and communities could have tried to work against this permit is now gone.
YCMM/Mentawai ORCID asks that
PT. SPS stops its plans to actively use the logging concession in Sipora
The central government of Indonesia cancels the permit
The regional government of Mentawai (Pemerintah daerah Mentawai) accelerates the process of recognition of indigenous peoples’ and their right to land in the affected areas on Sipora island.
The government body that receives PT.SPS’s environmental assessment rejects it based on impacts on climate, biodiversity, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights.
Link to more background information in bahasa Indonesia.
About fighting for the Mentawai forests: In 2014 the Mentawai islands made international headlines when YCMM and other civil society actors, campaigned to cancel a 74,500 hectare permit to transform forests of Siberut into oil palm plantation. The district head eventually cancelled the permit and promised not to authorize any new permit for oil palm, making the archipelago “palm oil free”. But threats to forests and natural resources are sadly still strong, as the neighboring island Sumatra is widely affected by deforestation and investors look to small islands to find timber and new lands for monoculture.
Other permits are regularly granted on forests of the Mentawai, such as permits for industrial timber plantations. Thanks to YCMM’s policy work timber plantation permits have been cancelled in the past, but they are often also reactivated by the government, which happened last year.
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