Survival of Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers to be decided in days
The Leuser Ecosystem harbors the richest representation of biodiversity in Southeast Asia. It is the last place on earth where critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers can all be found together in the wild. Nationally protected by Indonesian law, the Leuser Ecosystem was identified as one of the “world’s most irreplaceable protected areas” in a recent publication by Science, and is rapidly gaining support in Aceh and around the world to be fully recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nevertheless the very existence of the Leuser Ecosystem now hangs in the balance. Indonesia is only days away from elections and an illegal new Aceh provincial by-law directly contradicts and undermines the legal status of the Leuser Ecosystem. We need to act quickly to ensure that, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming elections, it is clear there is immense global support for the Leuser Ecosystem to remain protected for many years to come.
The stakes are higher than ever. If we cannot immediately stop this illegal by-law, hundreds - if not thousands - more orangutans like Gokong’s mother will die as a result, and the last truly viable populations of Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers will be placed in immediate jeopardy. It’s not only biodiversity at risk, local communities have been protesting against the plan too. Opening these forests will devastate numerous critical watersheds, threatening the livelihoods and indeed the lives of countless Acehnese people.
What is urgently needed right now is the biggest show of global support we can muster to remind Indonesia’s national government that the world is seriously concerned over the fate of Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem, and is ready to fully support a just and fair decision that upholds national law.
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Global support has already proven successful helping local communities win a historic court case in 2013, which found another palm oil company in Tripa guilty of illegally clearing peat swamp forests inside the Leuser Ecosystem. PT Kallista Alam was prosecuted and ordered to pay over US$33 million in fines, damages and reparations. Now, unbelievably, the Aceh Parliament has passed an illegal by-law that will remove the protected status of vast areas of the Leuser Ecosystem, allowing in roads and unsustainable, carbon-polluting industries like palm oil, logging and mining.
Time is fast running out, but all is not yet lost. The Leuser Ecosystem is in fact fully protected under national law and the Indonesian Ministry of Domestic Affairs has already warned the Aceh Parliament: “Include the protected status of Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem in the spatial plan, or the new by-law can be rejected.” Despite these warnings, local media report that Aceh’s Parliament is threatening to ignore the Ministry and ignore national law. The Ministry of Domestic Affairs is yet to announce its formal response.
We wish to congratulate Mr Gamawan Fauzi and his team in the Ministry of Domestic Affairs for their comprehensive legal evaluation of the spatial plan and for giving the clear message that the plan must be revised. We must support them to stand by the Ministry’s review, and reject the illegal by-law that threatens to remove protection from Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem.
Within Aceh a consortium of local NGOs are rallying together, with the support of Wildlife Asia, to take legal action to protect the Leuser Ecosystem if the spatial plan is not immediately cancelled. With your support, some groundbreaking legal actions have already been won and more are underway against companies operating illegally in Tripa. We can win again. But now we need to step up another level to save the much larger Leuser Ecosystem. This is a historic, make-or-break moment for the survival of the Leuser Ecosystem. We must join forces to ensure we succeed for the sake of Leuser’s spectacular biodiversity, which is found nowhere else on earth, and for the long-term sustainable development of Aceh and its people.
Please sign and share this petition now. This is the most important and urgent petition we have ever launched, and we need your full support today.
According to Wildlife Asia Director, Clare Campbell, ‘This really is the most critical conservation issue of our time. With one decision, we could see the devastating loss of such magnificent iconic species as the Sumatran orangutan, rhino, elephant and tiger, along with vast tracts of forest that are essential for the survival of a host of other wildlife species and human communities alike. Wildlife Asia is making a desperate plea for donations so we can increase our ongoing support to the local leaders and organisations fighting for the Leuser Ecosystem. We urgently need people to get behind us, to fight this devastating new spatial plan. The best way most of us can do that is to help with funding support so that those on the ground can continue to work as effectively as humanly possible. Wildlife Asia is committed to the long-term battle still ongoing in Sumatra.”
Please visit www.givenow.com.au/wildlifeasia to make a donation. Donations within Australia are tax deductible.
With the greatest respect, I write to offer you my support to ensure the immeasurable efforts made over recent decades to protect Indonesia’s most irreplaceable forests are not lost with the passing of a single, legally flawed provincial by-law.
I write to express serious concern that Sumatra’s last great forests have just been condemned to destruction. This situation is extremely urgent: The coming days will determine the lasting legacy of your administration in environmental protection.
This is a pivotal moment for the future survival of the globally renowned Leuser Ecosystem, containing some of Sumatra’s last great pristine forests. This 2.6 million hectare tropical forest is the last place on earth where critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers can be found together in the wild. It is the most remarkable biodiversity hotspot of Southeast Asia. The majority of the Leuser Ecosystem is situated inside the province of Aceh and is currently under assault from illegal land use planning, namely:
1. Aceh spatial plan by-law (also known as Qanun RTRWA).
2. Ministry of Forestry Decree 941/2013 on designation of forest area.
3. Governor Regulation on utilization activities within the Leuser Ecosystem, permitting palm oil, logging and mining to take place inside the Leuser Ecosystem (also known as Pergub KEL).
During the service of your term, Indonesia has made many bold commitments to reducing deforestation and carbon emissions. This is how your years of hard work and local, national and international collaboration should be remembered. One of your most positive environmental reforms was the passing of a National Planning Law designating the Leuser Ecosystem as a National Strategic Area for its Environmental Protection Function (26/2006). Assigning this high level of protection to the Leuser Ecosystem is widely respected by the international community. Now we also applaud the Ministry of Domestic Affairs for this correct evaluation of Aceh’s Qanun RTRWA. Their review clearly identified and highlighted several breaches of national law within this Qanun’s content.
There is growing support within Aceh, and internationally, for the Leuser Ecosystem to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It therefore stands in stark contrast to see Aceh’s Parliament passing this local by-law and thereby committing the lowland forests of the Leuser Ecosystem to destruction through unsustainable, carbon-polluting industries like palm oil, logging and mining, and the higher elevations to fragmentation and encroachment by illegal roads.
Aceh’s Qanun RTRWA is clearly illegal. The Ministry of Domestic Affairs undoubtedly recognises this and has already requested that it be revised for this very reason. However, according to recent statements by its Deputy, the Aceh Parliament has chosen to ignore the Ministry’s evaluation and request, and remains fully intent on opening the Leuser Ecosystem forests for destruction. There can be no doubt about this: An additional new by-law, recently signed by Aceh's Governor, clearly announces that the Leuser Ecosystem is open for business, even providing guidelines and instructions on how to obtain business concessions inside it. What clearer evidence could there possibly be that the Leuser Ecosystem is a legal entity that must be protected?
Given the above, we urgently request and support an executive review of Aceh’s Qanun RTRWA, to prevent this destruction and to save the Leuser Ecosystem. Numerous Acehnese are now calling for multi-stakeholder mediated discussions concerning land use planning in Aceh. We strongly urge you to support their desperate plea and insist these crucial discussions take place immediately.
Please Mr President, I implore you to use your wisdom and influence to revoke the Qanun RTRWA. You can ensure all parties are able to come together at this critical time to facilitate a truly sustainable long-term solution for low-carbon development in Aceh that protects the environmental services the Leuser Ecosystem provides to Aceh’s people and its incredibly rich biodiversity, which is found nowhere else on earth. Indonesia today truly has the opportunity to showcase how conservation underpins successful, sustainable development, but as I write, this opportunity is being squandered in Aceh and we desperately need your help to prevent this.
We trust that all the great work you have achieved to date to protect Indonesia’s unique and globally acclaimed natural environment, biodiversity and resources will not be undermined during your final days in office. We pledge our full support for a just and fair outcome, based on good governance and in favour of sustainable economic growth for Aceh and for Aceh’s people.