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Plan to dissolve Peatland Restoration Agency raised concerns

Jakarta Post - July 17, 2020

A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil, Jakarta – Despite persistent peatland degradation and forest fires, the government is considering dissolving the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG), among other agencies in the crosshairs.

Established in January 2016 by presidential regulation, the BRG will have its tenure expired on Dec. 31, if the government does not renew the mandate.

Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko said on Tuesday that the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry was reviewing 18 institutions established under government and presidential regulations with tasks and responsibilities that could be taken over by other ministries. The move follows President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's recent instruction to simplify the bureaucracy.

Moeldoko said merging the institutions to be dissolved with existing agencies or ministries was an option.

"The BRG's performance in restoring peatland has been good enough, but we are still reviewing whether [the tasks] of the BRG could not be handled by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency for fire mitigation and the Agriculture Ministry for the optimization of peatland for agriculture," he said.

BRG's undersecretary for campaigns, participation and partnership, Myrna Syafitri, said on Wednesday that it was the prerogative of the President to extend BRG's tenure or not.

"Regardless of what will happen, we set up our tasks with a five-year [timeframe, in line with the tenure stated in the presidential regulation]," she told The Jakarta Post, adding that the agency had designed its restoration projects with a flexibility that allowed for them to be carried over to ministries and village administrations.

Established in response to the country's worst-ever forest fires in 2015, the BRG is tasked with restoring up to 2.67 million hectares of peatland across seven provinces.

About 1.7 million ha are in concession areas – 1.2 million ha in forestry concession areas and 550,000 ha in plantation concession areas – where the BRG can only provide technical assistance to restoration attempts by the respective concession holder.

About 890,000 ha of peatland to be restored are located on non-concession lands, which give the BRG more flexibility to directly coordinate and facilitate restoration projects with regional administrations, civil society organizations and residents.

"We realize that we are a nonstructural government agency tasked with assisting the government," Myrna said.

Teguh Surya, the chairman of environmental NGO the Madani Foundation, said Indonesia still had a long way to go to restore peatland across the country.

"[The government] must clarify its plans and how they will commit to peatland restoration," he said, citing the 2020-2024 National Medium-Term Development Plan (RPJMN) that showed that the BRG's performance was suboptimal.

The BRG restored only 143,448 ha of about 1.7 million ha of peatland on concession lands in 2018, but, according to Myrna, it had restored about 780,000 ha of peatland in non-concession areas by the end of 2019.

According to Madani, peatland ecosystems account for 44 percent of the total land burned last year, or 727,972 ha; and within that ecosystem, 54.71 percent of are protected peatland areas (FLEGs). Government data show that more than 1.6 million ha of land and forest were affected by fires last year.

"We interpret that as a sign that a stronger agency [handling peat restoration] is needed. If [the BRG] is merged into an existing agency or ministry, will it create stronger efforts?" Teguh asked.

Teguh also warned that, since the emissions associated with peatland degradation remain high, disbanding the BRG without a follow-up plan would tarnish Indonesia's reputation in the global emissions reduction effort.

However, the BRG has also been credited as one of the factors contributing to slowdown of deforestation in Indonesia, which, according to the latest Global Forest Watch report, has recorded historically low deforestation rates for three consecutive years since 2017. It found that Indonesia lost 324,000 ha of primary forest last year, or 5 percent less than in the previous year.

Last month, Indonesia received a US$56 million grant from Norway, as the first payment for Indonesia's successful reduction in deforestation and carbon emissions, including from peatland, under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) cooperation scheme.

The current agreement does not include peatland restoration, but Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry has suggested that this be included in an updated agreement currently being discussed by Indonesia and Norway.

"The peatland regulation of 2016 – which also established the BRG – effectively prohibits clearing, draining and conversion of peatlands," the Norwegian Embassy's charge d'affaires Bjornar Dahl Hotvedt told the Post on Wednesday. "This reform has led to drastic reductions in peatland destruction, and the BRG as well as the environment ministry have played an important role in that."

"Restoring already converted peatland is also essential, and we welcome the government's dedication in stepping up efforts. The functions filled by the BRG are critical in this regard," he added.

When asked about the possibility of the BRG being disbanded, the embassy only said that "Norway supports the reform agenda of the Jokowi administration".

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/07/16/plan-to-dissolve-peatland-restoration-agency-raised-concerns.html