Indonesia’s climate approach will backfire without a palm oil moratorium

At COP26 in Glasgow, more than 100 leaders, including Indonesian President Joko Widodo, committed to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Yet in his speech, Widodo made no mention of the moratorium on palm oil plantations, which expired in September. Without this moratorium, Indonesia’s climate approach will backfire, NGO Sawit Watch warns.

Header photo: palm oil plantation © Sawit Watch

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use recognizes that meeting the land use, climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals, both globally and nationally, requires transformative further action in the area of sustainable production and consumption.

The signatories state they will “strengthen their efforts to facilitate trade and development policies, internationally and domestically, that promote sustainable development, and sustainable commodity production and consumption, that work to countries’ mutual benefit, and that do not drive deforestation and land degradation.”

Elephant in the room: palm oil       

Yet nobody mentioned the elephant in the room: Indonesia’s palm oil strategy. In his speech, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that “Indonesia is blessed as the most carbon rich country in the world on vast rainforests, mangroves, oceans and peatlands” and that Indonesia is “committed to protecting these critical carbon sinks and our natural capital”. He did however not mention the expiration of the moratorium on palm oil, while the expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia risks large-scale conversion of biodiversity-rich forests and peatlands into oil palm plantations, and to an increase in carbon emissions.

Oil palm expansion will worsen climate change

Indonesian NGO Sawit Watch warns that Indonesia’s plan to replace fossil fuels with palm-based biofuel will likely worsen climate change. According to Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) Arifin Tasrif, the transition from fossil fuel to biofuel requires a shocking 15 million hectares of new oil palm plantations[1]Anisatul Umah. (2020, November 23). Butuh 15 Juta Hektar Sawit Buat Gantikan Minyak, Yes or No? Retrieved October 29, 2021, from CNBC Indonesia website: … Continue reading: almost double of the current plantation area.

The NGO calls on President Joko Widodo to extend the Indonesian palm oil moratorium, as a proof of Indonesia’s determination to meet the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and play a proactive role in the global climate crisis.

Public pressure to extend moratorium

Also the public is demanding an extension of moratorium on palm oil plantations. Over 7,000 people signed a petition on urging the Indonesian government to extend and strengthen the moratorium on palm oil.

On September 17, civil society organizations, academics, and a number of parties from various backgrounds sent President Joko Widodo an open letter urging him to extend and strengthen the palm oil moratorium policy for the sake of Indonesia’s forests.

Opportunity to meet climate commitments

‘Indonesia has the ambition to reduce emissions in the forestry sector with 17.2% to 38% by 2030,’ says Andi Inda Fatinaware, Executive Director of Sawit Watch. ‘The moratorium provides the opportunity to contribute to these climate commitments. Currently there is about 6.2 million ha of peatlands located inside palm oil concessions. Restoring 3.8 million ha peat land to its natural functions can avoid emissions from fires and land conversion by 11.5 million tons carbon per year.’

‘The extension of the palm oil moratorium is one of the concrete priorities for promoting the climate change agenda,’ Andi Inda Fatinaware says. ‘A substantial part of the palm oil permit area is natural forest. According to land cover data from 2019, oil palm permits included 3,577,496 hectares of natural forest. 1,427,467 hectares of this total are still subject to permission examination under the Presidential Instruction on Palm Oil moratorium. The extension of the palm oil moratorium gives hope that natural forests still under the palm oil permission would be re-examined and returned to forest areas.’

Wild fires in Indonesia – often purposely started for expansion of palm oil plantations – are seriously contributing to global warming. 

Tackling these issues, and achieving Indonesia’s climate ambitions, will only be possible if the country extends, and strengthens the implementation of, the moratorium on oil palm plantations.

This article has been prepared in collaboration with Michel Riemersma and Sawit Watch.

More information


1 Anisatul Umah. (2020, November 23). Butuh 15 Juta Hektar Sawit Buat Gantikan Minyak, Yes or No? Retrieved October 29, 2021, from CNBC Indonesia website: