From declining deforestation to quitting coal, Indonesia marks a pivotal 2022

by Isabel Esterman on 30 December 2022



  • 2022 saw a continued decline in deforestation in Indonesia, as well as financing deals for forest conservation and phasing out fossil fuels, and a scramble to keep up with changing EU timber regulations.
  • The year also saw the passage of controversial amendments to Indonesia’s criminal code, friction between the government and researchers, and increasing concerns about the environmental cost of the country’s nickel boom for electric vehicle batteries.
  • Here are some of the top environment stories and trends of 2022 from one of the world’s most important tropical forest countries.

Home to the world’s third-largest expanse of tropical forest, the world’s fourth-biggest population, and frequently ranked among the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas emitters, Indonesia is a country where what happens has a vast effect on global biodiversity and environmental health.

Here, assembled by Mongabay staff, are some of the top news and trends from Indonesia in 2022.

Deforestation continues to slow

Between 2001 and 2021, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares (69 million acres) of forest, an area larger than New Zealand, according to Global Forest Watch. However, since peaking in 2016, forest loss in Indonesia has continued to decline. According to GFW, the country lost 841,000 hectares (2.08 million acres) of tree cover in 2021, including 203,000 hectares (502,000 acres) of primary forest, both the lowest levels recorded since 2003. Deforestation linked to oil palm expansion, for years a primary driver of forest loss, has also shown a marked decline. An analysis by palm oil supply chain mapping initiative Trase found that deforestation in Indonesia associated with palm oil dropped by 82% in the past decade. The trend also appears to hold across the region, with palm oil-linked deforestation across Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea dropping for the second year in a row in 2021, according to a study by sustainability risk analysis organization Chain Reaction Research. The declines, which occurred even as palm oil prices rebounded in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, have been described as “huge huge news” and a signal that sustainability pledges are having a real impact on deforestation.

While the numbers have generally been met with optimism, activists note that there is still cause for concern. “Indonesia’s forests are not yet out of danger: 2.4 million hectares [5.9 million acres] of intact forest remain in existing palm oil concessions,” Timer Manurung, director of Indonesian environmental NGO Auriga Nusantara, told Mongabay. “Legally speaking, companies could clear [these] forests. Right now, there’s no legal protection.” Forests in Indonesian Borneo and Papua are particularly in danger, Timer said.

This echoes broader concerns about deforestation in the country: a 2021 report by a coalition of Indonesia NGOs found that while Indonesia’s overall annual deforestation rate fell, forest loss in the regions with the most remaining forest, concentrated in the country’s eastern islands like Papua, actually increased. Environment activists also point to recent government policies as potential threats to forests, including a push to expand large-scale food estates, plans to build a new capital city in Borneo, major infrastructure projects, and a program to promote palm oil-based biofuel.

Burning within Tesso Nilo National Park.
Between 2001 and 2021, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares (69 million acres) of forest. However, since peaking in 2016, forest loss in Indonesia has continued to decline. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

EU deforestation law prompts a regulatory upgrade

In December, the European Union finalized a law banning the trade of timber and other forest products associated with deforestation and forest degradation, even if the products are sourced and exported legally. Once the law is fully enacted, companies will be required to issue due diligence statements verifying that any goods they import into the EU are deforestation- and forest degradation-free. Conservation groups like Greenpeace and WWF have lauded the law as “groundbreaking” and a “major breakthrough for forests.”

Indonesian officials, however, have slammed the law, saying it negates more than a decade of progress by the country in complying with existing EU sustainability codes. Since 2011, Indonesia has worked with the EU to develop a system, known as the SVLK, to verify the legality of its exported timber. The SVLK is supposed to favor Indonesian timber products, granting them a “green lane” that exempts them from stringent checks on arrival. The new law, officials and industry insiders say, shifts the goalposts after the arduous process of bringing exporters into compliance with SVLK requirements.

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