Conservationists and environmental scientists get used to hearing bad news. So when there's some really good news it's important to hear that as well.
While the battle is far from over, there appear to have been important breakthroughs recently in the longstanding battle to protect the imperiled Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia -- the last place on Earth where Tigers, Orangutans, Rhinoceros, and Elephants still coexist.
Kudos to a Conservation Hero
Many have worked to raise the profile of Leuser, even including the leading actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who visited there recently. But few have had more impact than Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program.
In a recent and highly influential interview, Singleton laid out a remarkably compelling and detailed argument for saving Leuser -- and for the surprisingly limited economic benefits its exploitation would generate for the local Sumatran citizens. You can read his comments and hear his interview here.
The most remarkable news of all is that the government of Aceh -- which controls most of the Leuser Ecosystem and has been subjected to scathing criticism for its schemes to destroy much of the region's forests for oil palm, rice and mining expansion while opening it up with a vast road network -- has agreed to a moratorium on new land clearing and mining.
This is huge news, and it's clear that both the international community as well as Indonesia's federal government, have played big roles in making this happen. Indonesian President Joko Widodo deserves a great deal of credit for this accomplishment, which he has been pushing for many months -- not just in Aceh but also elsewhere in Indonesia.
The economic and environmental think-tank Greenomics Indonesia also deserves a big round of applause for their efforts to facilitate this groundbreaking achievement.
Setting the Agreement in Stone?
Moratoria can always be cancelled or weakened, but the chances of that happening seem increasingly remote. In her speech last week following the signing of the Paris Agreement at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Indonesian Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Dr Siti Nurbaya, underscored her nation's commitment to the Leuser moratorium.
It seems unlikely the Minister would make this statement in such a high-profile event if there were doubts the moratorium were going to collapse.
And the news gets even better. The Deputy Governor of Aceh, Muzakir Manaf, declared this week that he will provide full support for ground-level measures needed to enforce the moratorium.
That's critical for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that the Aceh Government itself is getting strongly behind the moratorium. Second, a moratorium is just a piece of paper unless there's real on-the-ground enforcement to ensure that illegal land-clearing, poaching, mining, and other activities don't continue unabated.
Limiting Oil Palm
A final bit of good news is that the Indonesian Minister of the Environment and Forestry has confirmed her intent to completely halt the granting of new permits for oil palm plantations.
To be clear, this doesn't mean oil palm plantations won't keep expanding in Indonesia, as there are thousands of existing permits encompassing many millions of hectares of native forest still active. Indeed, Indonesia has previously announced plans to clear another 14 million hectares of native forest by 2020, mostly for oil palm and wood-pulp production.
But at least it means that the avalanche of new oil palm permits is coming to a halt, with great credit due to President Widodo and Minister Nurbaya.
The Battle Isn't Over
The fight to conserve Indonesia's mega-diverse forests is far from over. The nation's plans for massive road, dam, and mining expansion -- many in forested areas where such projects can open a Pandora's box of environmental problems -- is enough to frighten even the soberest of observers.
But for today, at least, we need to celebrate a very significant victory for nature conservation. Indonesia needs to be applauded and all those who've fought for the Leuser Ecosystem need to be applauded.
And while we're congratulating ourselves and others we shouldn't forget to keep a close eye on Leuser to ensure the promised moratorium really does take effect -- where one of the most important wild places in the world still survives.