Environmental Permits in Indonesia amid Natural Degradation and Ecological Disaster – Modern Diplomacy

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Entering the second month of 2021, Indonesia continues to be on the massive threat of disasters like earthquake in Sulawesi, landslides in West Java, followed by flooding in Kalimantan and two volcanic eruptions in most inhabited island, Java. The National Board for Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) has mentioned that until the end of January 2021, Indonesia has attacked by 185 disasters. It’s no longer a joke when almost 170 individuals became victims and majority of them were displaced.
Amongst all of the disaster, the shocking and tremendous one was the big floods in Kalimantan where 11 districts are inundated, 403.405 people become the victims and have to be relocated, and almost 80.000 houses are damaged.  This crisis is triggered not only because of the excessive rainfalls, but also because of the rapid degradation of natural resources and environment in Indonesia, especially in Kalimantan. A contradicts with the statement of President Joko Widodo about South Kalimantan flood which blaming the intensity of rainfalls as the major factor which caused flood, the actual data has shown different reality.
Rapid deforestation occurred in Kalimantan due to forest conversion into extractive industries (mining and oil palm plantations). These activities are conducted by neglecting the ecological aspects and also the weak environmental permits, which made South Kalimantan lost two-thirds of their forest. According to the data from Indonesian Space Agency (LAPAN) more than 322,000 hectares of forest land has been destroyed in the past decade. This number indicates that in South Kalimantan or Barito watersheds, the original forest cover has significantly degraded and the natural function of the watershed to absorb the heavy rains and water overflows is also damaged.
Weak Enforcement of Environmental Law and Its Permits
There are plenty of regulations concerning about environmental protection; Law No. 32 of 2009 on The Management and Protection of the Environment and Law No. 23 of 2014 (which lastly amended by Law No. 9 of 2015) on Regional Government, which give autonomy to local government to tackling all issues about regional development (including the protection of environment). Subsequently, Environmental Law which administered and enforced by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia, will be supported by Governors, Head of District or Mayors and other authorities. Besides that, Indonesian government also have environmental permits scheme that required for certain business that may impact on the form of natural resources and landscape, over-exploitation on environment and natural resources, and potentially caused environmental degradation of its utilization. But unfortunately, all of these regulations and permits scheme are having such biased to the current conditions of forest degradation and disaster in Indonesia.
For instance in Law No. 4 of 2009 (which amended by Law No. 3 of 2020) on Mineral and Coal Mining has clearly regulated about the mining business license (Izin Usaha Pertambangan). In accordance with that regulation, Government may establish mining license after having consultation with parliament and local governments. The permit holders are only allowed to extract one type of mineral in the concession area. There are two stages in acquiring the mining permit: exploration permit and operational permit. Related to the mining permit, the permit holders (companies) have to fulfill some requirement provided by Ministry of Environment and Forestry and also local regulations. Not only that, the permit holders also has to approach to the local community and oblige to pay some compensation of the converted land. If all requirements are fulfilled, then the Leasehold of Forest Area License (Izin Pinjam Pakai Kawasan Hutan) can be issued. Despite those normative steps, the permit holders also have to bear with technical procedures (defining the geographic coordinates, making feasibility studies and reclamation plans, and the most crucial one is conducting the re-vegetation plan to ensure the sustainability of the forest. Having the similar pathways with mining permits, to expand the plantation for business activities or commercial, corporations have to followed several steps and permits of plantation business license (Izin Usaha Perkebunan), especially if the plantation expansion is more than 25 hectares. In this phase, Ministry of Environment and Forestry hold the authorities. But if permit holders wanted to have exploitation rights over forests, they have to submit the permit to the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning/National Land Agency. All of these steps is regulated in Law No. 18 of 2004 (which amended by Law No.39 of 2014) on Plantation.
Even though many layers of regulation and schemes are applied in forest permits, but still, social scientist and humanitarian workers considered that the current natural degradation followed by ecological disaster are resulted from the rampant of permits for mining and palm oil plantation business. The current data from Jatam has revealed that until June 2020, the forest permits in South Kalimantan is rapidly increased, for about 93 Leasehold of Forest Area License (Izin Pinjam Pakai Kawasan Hutan)is issued by government and 56.727,86 hectares are allocated for mining and plantation, which surely impacted on deforestation and disaster. Furthermore, in South Kalimantan the biggest portion of forest utilization rights is belong to the business or corporations (60%), the remained portion are given to local community, but when they are struggling to live in concession areas, they are always tortured by corporations, either to get sources of food or to stay in the forests. These vivid conditions then raised many contras from green scholars.
Is Forest Moratorium the Only Answer?
Moratorium of the forest permits is not ‘the award-winning’ solution in this circumstance. Critical reviews have to be applied, such as; implementing the frequent evaluation of forest permits and strengthening the environmental law and its enforcement. Besides, the revocation of licenses, and strengthening the criminal and civil law into environmental regulation is very crucial, of course this action should be followed by a strict moratorium on every business activities in forestry, either mining or plantation sector. And last thing which could not be bargained, the participation of local community or civil society organization is very important to monitor every action of corporations. Because what matters the most“..is not holding back the issuance of permits, but showing reality that government is pro to their people and nature..”
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A human ecology researcher in Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Having interests on environmental justice, natural resources management and gender issue.
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This month marks the fourth anniversary of Myanmar’s brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that forcibly displaced around a million Rohingya Muslims into Bangladeshi refugee camps. The persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is not new, with massive waves of displacement being recorded in 1978, 1992 and most recently 2017.
In 2004, the UNHCR defined a “protracted refugee situation” as a situation where 25,000 or more refugees had been in existence for five or more years with no immediate prospect of a durable solution. Some 30,000 Rohingya Muslims from earlier influxes were living in Bangladesh though 90% of those were either born in Bangladesh (nearly 63%) or have been there for 20 years or more (34-36%). These refugees were covered under the UNHCR’s protracted refugee situation measure as the international community failed to negotiate successful repatriation for them.
The scale and magnitude of the displacement since August 25, 2017, where more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh, is unprecedented and everything seems to suggest that it is far from over. The current Rohingya plight has not reached the 5-year stipulation to qualify as a “protracted refugee situation”, but the prospects of the Rohingya situation would indicate a protracted nature. As evidenced all over the world from the increasing number of protracted refugee situations, repatriation is often more myth than reality, after almost four years, and with nearly a million refugees crowded into the settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, there is little sign of repatriation on the horizon, rendering the protracted nature of the Rohingya situation as a fait accompli.
There was a belief in both the Rohingya and International Community that with the restoration of democracy in Myanmar and the rise to power of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, that the plight of the Rohingya would be addressed. Instead, in 2017 following actions, internationally described as genocidal, by the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military forces, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. Following pressure from the international community Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at the International Court of Justice in the Hague on 10 December 2019 only to defend her government against accusations of genocide, during which campaigners for the Rohingya claimed that the leader uses the “nationalist card here to whip up support, but also convincing the military that she’s with them.” Nobel Peace Laureate Suu Kyi’s rise to power has ultimately made little or no meaningful impact on the ground, leaving the Rohingya to continue seeking outside aid.
Though Bangladesh pushed hard to begin the repatriation, Myanmar sought more time for logistical arrangements. The last meeting to address repatriation, met in January 2020, soon after that Coronavirus lockdown halted any further move on the question of Rohingya repatriation. Bangladesh was always hopeful of beginning repatriation as historically Myanmar took back most of their nationals who fled in 1978 and 1992. The internal politics of Myanmar however took a significant turn at the beginning of 2021. On February 1st, 2021, the Tatmadaw, announced that it had taken control of the country, declaring a year-long state of emergency.
The coup d’état returned the country to full military rule again. In the weeks since the coup, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted civilian leader, has faced charges in a secret trial. With her detention, Aung San Suu Kyi’s dizzying journey on the world stage – from democracy icon to leader of an elected government and then, astonishingly, a defender of the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims – returned to her familiar place, with Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, facing criminal charges.
Following the coup, General Min Aung Hlaing, declared that within a year, elections will be organised to correct the fraudulent results that caused the coup in the first place. Six months after seizing power, the military government officially annulled the results of the elections held in November 2020, General Min Aung Hlaing declared himself prime minister and announced that he will lead the country until elections are to be held in two years. General Min Aung Hlaing justified the postponed elections by claiming “we must create conditions to hold a free and fair multiparty general election”. This would place Myanmar under the control of the military for two and a half years rather than one year as initially stipulated. 
Though in the days following the coup, General Min Aung Hlaing, now Myanmar’s de facto ruler, vowed that Myanmar would move forward and promised to “protect” the Rohingya. This promise is unlikely to convince the Rohingya to accept repatriation, coming from the originators of their persecution, the Myanmar security forces, especially as this army junta killed more than 800 anti-coup protesters, drawing global outrage. As the situation in Myanmar worsens, it is becoming harder for the outside world to remain optimistic about the Rohingyas’ plight, Matthew Smith, the co-founder of the human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights, recently said “…it is difficult to see a way for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar safely. If there was even a shred of hope for a safe, voluntary, and dignified return, it’s completely gone now”.
As it stands, it seems inevitable that the Rohingya crisis will become a protracted refugee crisis as there is little hope for any significant shift in the Rohingyas’ circumstances within the next year.  Many refugees fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape violent ethnic cleansing and potentially saved the lives of themselves and their loved ones. Now living in refugee camps in cramped conditions, with limited freedom of movement, access to education or health service or any form of agency, the Rohingya are now dependent on the goodwill of their host nation and the will of the international community. Though they are no longer living in constant fear, the protracted nature of their plight diminishes their quality of life and prospects for the future. 
*The author would like to thank his PhD student Roberta Dumitriu at the University of Dundee, for contributing her valuable input for preparing this article.
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US -Vietnam ties have gone through tectonic change – from mid-1970s to the early 2021. The two countries have acknowledged the need for cooperation in areas such as regional security, maritime issues, trade and commerce, defence, and technology cooperation. The visit of Vice President Ms Kamala Harris is coming at a time when UN has discussed issues related to maritime security and maintaining international order at sea. Vice President Kamala Harris visit to Singapore followed with the visit to Hanoi to promote US interest in the two countries which are seen as pivot to US strategic interests in the Southeast Asian region.
During her visit to Singapore, it is expected that she will bolster its engagement with the island nation and develop its capacities in terms of base facility and promoting the economic ties and health cooperation with Singapore. Singapore itself is facing lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is expected that these two economies would be suffering slow down because of impending recession. US during the US-ASEAN   summit has promised medical assistance and developing medical capacities in select Southeast Asian countries. While Obama and Trump have visited Vietnam although for different objectives, but it has been seen through the US Quadrennial Defence Reviews that Vietnam is seen as a critical destination and a likely partner for promoting US strategic interests.
US has been keen on developing military ties with Vietnam and would be interested in undertaking bilateral exercises with the littoral nation in the South China Sea. Also, it is seen that with the degraded trade relations between China and US, the country would be interested in exploring possibilities for setting up factories and industries in South Vietnam.  US will be exploring possibilities to export COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam including those which can be administered to children above 12 years of age.
For the purposes of research, US will be collecting variant samples from Asian countries about Delta variant to develop more potent vaccines in future. Vice president Harris is likely to announce you support with regards to Agent Orange, seeking Vietnam support for finding remains of Missing in Action (MIA) American pilots and soldiers who fought during Vietnam war as well as possibly exploring export of US defence equipment to Vietnam.
US is also seeking possibility of drone operations to conduct surveillance sorties in South China Sea and given the wide spread of Vietnamese control islands, US will be looking for certain rights to operate drones from Vietnamese islands. United States is also looking for logistics sharing agreement, more identical with what it has signed with India, and looking for defence trade and technology cooperation agreement.
With regards to white shipping information and training, cooperation between US coast guards and Vietnamese sea police for maritime border patrols might be also in the agenda. Vice President Kamala Harris is interested in developing encrypted military communications set up with Vietnam to know more about Chinese adventures and manoeuvres not only in South China Sea but in and around the Gulf of Thailand. US might like to engage Vietnam to know more about Chinese activities in Ream Base in Cambodia. It has been also found that with Taiwan increasingly getting stressed out because of semiconductor industry, the United States is looking for other destinations to set up chip fabrication unit and Ho Chi Minh city might be the preferred destination.
In the past, it has been seen that with the withdrawal of US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement there has been certain problems in running this Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)which is among the rest eleven members of the grouping. The US is also going to make a proposal regarding stringent rules of origin and agreements on intellectual property rights to counter China’s dumping of goods in US market through redirecting its exports through other countries.
The Democrats in the United States has already raised the issue of religious freedom, right to political dissent and the prosecution of few of the dissident leaders in Vietnam. Even though this might not be acceptable to Vietnam, but Vice President Harris is going to make a point that Vietnam should not be worried about US position on these issues and that the country is very keen to engage Vietnam in a more constructive way.
Already there has been talks with regards to Vietnam getting included in the Quad plus arrangement along with Korea and New Zealand as well as the US is making a strong proposition regarding its proposed Blue Dot network and would urge Vietnam to join the build back a better world (B3W) which is an initiative undertaken by the G7 countries.
The United States is very serious regarding freedom of navigation and operations (FONOPS) in South China Sea and would urge Vietnam to undertake group sails along with Japan and US to thwart any Chinese adventure in this region. The joint statement between Vietnam and the US Vice President would be seen as an important precursor for greater engagement between the two countries. Vice President Kamala Harris has been insistent on upgrading the relationship from comprehensive partners to strategic partnership and would seek Vietnam’s indulgence in upgrading the embassy strength and increasing staff strength in each other countries to promote official ties and visits, and regular interaction between the two defence ministers.
It has been also seen that Vietnam is looking for greater support and market access to its packaged marine exports including catfish and textile exports to the US. The US vice president is going to make a concerted appeal for Vietnam to undertake negotiations regarding US-Vietnam trade deal which should be like the Vietnam and EU trade deal which came into being from August of this year. Given the fact that the United States is keen on developing ties with Vietnam and undertake confidence building measures which would include regular port calls by the US ships to Vietnam and deployment of each other’s armed forces personal in higher defence courses in each other countries.
Vice President Kamala Harris is going to make pronouncements with regards to reinforcing ASEAN centrality and making a strong pitch for support to Vietnam with regards to maritime security and maintaining rules-based order in South China Sea. This comes in the wake of diplomatic show-off of between the two countries in the UNSC meeting on maritime security. US is going to buttress the fact that Vietnam is one of the important stakeholders in Southeast Asia and therefore it needs cooperation and support with regards to fighting the pandemic and undertaking serious technological upgradation in the field of cyber security, digital trade and integrating Vietnam into the larger supply chain initiatives.
One of the purposes of Vice President’s visit to be a term is to promote education and knowledge ties between the two countries. This will help US Universities to set up branches across Vietnam and help in developing business links. Under the US under Biden administration an Interim Strategy Guidance which was released in March 2021, it was stated that Vietnam and Singapore are critical partners in regional security and capacity building, particularly in the context of maritime security and law enforcement in the marine zones.
Given the fact that both Japan and US are interested in developing high tech electronics industry in Vietnam therefore a likely trilateral arrangement between the three countries is on the cards. During the ASEAN meetings held in 2020, Vietnam has proposed to set up medical emergency units and coordination centres along with creating a network of research institutions and the US is keen to know Vietnamese proposals in this regard. Even though this visit will be a short one but is going to resonate in terms of supporting Vietnam through establishment of US sponsored Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Hanoi might be one of the beneficiaries of starting the public health initiative with the support from the US government. Kamala Harris is going to make a strong pitch to developing trade and investment linkages between USA and Vietnam and is also going to propose that US and Vietnam should enter into defence trade and technology agreement.
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Authors: I Dewa Made Raditya Margenta and Filda C. Yusgiantoro*
China – Indonesia’s relationship is likely to get stronger amid the decision made by the G7 to halt coal projects globally. Even so, these Asia giant nations should deliver a solid message to influence other nations in catalyzing the global clean energy transition and fostering the global climate agenda.
Disagreements among G20’s members to end international funds to coal and deciding phase-out timeline has opened a new chapter in the global energy sector, leading to the COP 26 in Glasgow this November. In the G20 meeting in Naples, the members agree to accelerate the clean energy transition to abate climate change. Yet, they failed to reach a consensus because of the discord from Russia, China, Turkey, India, and Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, this disagreement will not stop most of G20’s members from ending the widespread coal funding worldwide.
Previously, the commitment of G7 to stop funding coal projects globally is a crucial step to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. The G7 members also settled a global partnership to accelerate zero-emission vehicles utilization, decarbonize the power sector by the 2030s, and end international fossil-fuel backing. On the one hand, this decision pressures other countries to consider the configuration of their current and future energy mixes. On the other hand, it could drive Asian nations, including Indonesia, to tap China to fund its coal project.
China has become one of Indonesia’s most important economic and development partners. According to Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM), China has invested USD 4.8 billion or 16.7% of total foreign direct investment in Indonesia. With restrictions made by the G7, China’s influence in Indonesia may strengthen, especially in supporting coal-based energy programs.
China is one of the essential partners in coal projects in Indonesia. According to Global Energy Monitor, China has financed almost USD 16 million to generate nearly 10 GW of electricity from coal-fired power plants.
Although Indonesia will start phasing out coal-fired plants in 2030, transforming coal into DME or synthetic fuel remains crucial to reduce LPG and fuel import dependency. Also, Indonesia plans to produce hydrogen energy which is sourced from coal. Thus, Indonesia will turn to China for capital provision. Meanwhile, the market opportunity in Indonesia offers a potential increase to China’s state income.
However, suppose China decides to support Indonesia’s downstream coal program, global pressure on questioning Indonesia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement may arise. This should be avoided to maintain its international relations stability.
Instead, China’s back on coal projects undoubtedly faces more pressure globally, and it may lead China to stop fossil fuel funding.
Thus, China and Indonesia could opt to increase cooperation for clean energy programs in Indonesia, such as electric vehicles, Li-ion batteries, and solar projects. Both countries can also exert a solid message to Asian nations considering their substantial influence on the Asian and global economies.
China is currently the largest developing country and the world’s second-largest economy. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has supported more than 70 countries and organizations, illustrates China’s global leverage. This strong initiative, which aims to promote economic development and inter-regional connectivity, depicts how China’s power can influence other countries’ development.
Therefore, the disagreement in the previous G20 summit will be the perfect time for China to stop funding fossil fuel projects and give supports to green projects.
This decision will strengthen China’s global influence. It also aligns with Xi Jinping’s pledge on China’s carbon neutrality by 2060 and the introduction of carbon emission trading as China’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, Indonesia possesses excellent economic potential, which will be crucial for its 2045 goals to be a developed country. Also, Indonesia already set the net-zero target date at 2060. To achieve these goals, Indonesia should start focusing on green economic recovery for sustainable development. Thus more prolonged fossil fuel utilization will be undesirable considering its negative externalities to the environment.
Indonesia’s plans to introduce carbon tax and carbon trading schemes will encourage renewable energy to be more economically preferable and catalyze the energy transition. If Indonesia can successfully implement its energy transition, it can set the example for the other Asian nations. Besides, Indonesia is the most influential state within ASEAN and has solid bilateral relationships.
Given the enormous influence of these two countries globally and in the Asian region, now is the right time to affirm their commitment to the global climate agenda. Therefore, Indonesia and China should affirm their domestic targets on clean energy-environmental programs. Their strategic partnership is also crucial to support each nation’s goals.
In addition, China and Indonesia can collaborate with other nations within their regions to achieve common goals in supporting each climate agenda. The closest step that can be taken is to strengthen diplomatic relations in the Asian region by focusing on the economic-environmental and socio-economic aspects.
For this reason, it is interesting to see what strategic steps Indonesia and China will take ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow. Their commitment and influence are crucial to accelerating climate issues abatement, unless these are only weasel words.
*Filda C. Yusgiantoro, Ph.D., chairperson of Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center and economic lecturer in Prasetya Mulya University
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