Deforestation is responsible for approximately 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore a major contribu- tor to climate change, but also to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services and a direct threat to Asia’s great ape – the orangutan. Between 2005-2010, Indonesia had accelerating for- est loss compared to 2000-2005 and is within the highest five countries for percentage of primary forest loss globally. Tis ac- celeration in forest loss not only negatively impacts forests and biodiversity, but also local and global ecosystem services such as water supply, human health and food security in addition to cli- mate change mitigation. Much of the deforestation is caused by both illegal and short-term economic gains, often undermining long-term development goals.
Tis study explores opportunities for a more sustainable path- way to development and looks for reconciliation between forest and biodiversity conservation and economic progress. It focuses on two pilot sites on the island of Sumatra, namely Tripa swamp and the mountain forests of Batang Toru, both hosting signifi- cant orangutan populations. Te assessment quantifies the eco- nomic trade-offs between unsustainable and sustainable forms of land use, and considers the role of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and broader Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes in achieving balanced conservation and development objectives.
Te tropical rainforests where Sumatran orangutans occur hold some of the most spectacular biodiversity on the planet: Sumatran tigers, Sumatran elephants, and Sumatran rhinoceroses are notable endemic fauna among a bewildering diversity of other animal and plant species. As such, these forests form an incredibly important area for conservation. Nevertheless, they are among the fastest dis- appearing forests in the world as they are rapidly being converted to other land uses such as oil palm and timber plantations.
Between 1985 and 2007, nearly half of the forest on Sumatra disappeared. Te two Indonesian provinces where Sumatran orangutans occur, Aceh and North Sumatra, have witnessed a total forest loss of 22.4% and 43.4%, respectively from 1985- 2008/9. While the annual rate of forest loss was highest dur- ing the 1985-1990 period (Aceh 2.0%, North Sumatra 4.2%) and decreased during 1990-2000 (Aceh 0.7%, North Sumatra 1.2%), forest loss increased again from 2000-2008/9 (Aceh 0.9%, North Sumatra 2.3%).
Only around 8,641km2 of orangutan habitat now remains on
Sumatra, which equates to 17% of the remaining forest in Aceh and North Sumatra. Of this, 78% is within the Leuser Ecosys- tem, which is situated in Aceh and North Sumatra. Te coastal peat swamp forests on the western edge of the Leuser Ecosys- tem represent only 11% of the remaining forest area where oran- gutans occur, but hold 31% of the orangutan’s total numbers and are therefore critically important to their conservation.
In both Aceh and North Sumatra, the rate of forest loss is highest in peatlands, mainly due to draining and burning for oil palm expansion, resulting in very high release of greenhouse
Cleared lowland forest area (Nick Lyon/Cockroach Productions)
gases otherwise stored in the peat, and in lowland forests below 500 m altitude. During 1985-2007 forest loss on non-peatland below 500 m was 36% in Aceh and 61% in North Sumatra. For forest on peat swamps forest loss was 35% in Aceh and 78% in North Sumatra.
Deforestation is driven by both global demand for products such as vegetable oil and timber, and a more localized demand for agricultural products. For orangutan habitat in the Leuser Ecosystem on peatlands, 79% of the deforestation during the 1985-2007 period was attributable to oil palm expansion, com- pared with 19% for non-peatland forest. Te drivers of defor- estation are facilitated by road expansion (both legal and illegal) as settlers, agriculturalists or loggers move in along the roads.
A critical challenge in reducing deforestation lies in the struc- ture of forestry concessions and land management and subse- quent enforcement. While central government laws and policies are in place to guide and regulate forest use and development, road construction, logging, agricultural expansion and mining occur in areas nominally off-limit to such activities, including inside protected areas.
Forest conversion for other land uses is often considered key to the rapid economic development of Indonesia. However, such conversion also comes at a cost. Te same forests that are being turned into oil palm or timber plantations and other land uses fulfil an important role in the lives of the local people, provide for much of their livelihood and can help ensure important eco- system service functions such as water regulation for irrigation of agricultural lands, disasters and risk reduction and the regula- tion of climate at local and global scales.
While illegal logging is widespread, some legitimate logging operations harvest wood from land beyond their allocated con- cession boundaries and much of the forest-based development does not provide long-term development for local populations. For example, as the forests are logged, their function as a water