ICEL

ICEL

With Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

Panoramic view of the Grasberg gold and copper mine in Indonesian Papua on the island of New Guinea. (Image by Richard Jones/Flickr ; Mongabay)

 

  • The Indonesian government has acquired a majority stake in the operator of the Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines.
  • The $3.85 billion deal has been lauded as a move toward resource sovereignty, but there’s been little mention of who inherits the massive pollution legacy left from decades of mining waste being dumped in rivers and forests.
  • Activists are also calling for clarity in how the acquisition will improve the lives of the indigenous Papuan communities living around the mine, as well as end the long-running conflicts pitting them against the mine operator and security forces.

 

JAKARTA — When the Indonesian government took a controlling stake in the operator of one of the world’s richest gold mines at the end of 2018, proponents hailed the move as a historic step toward national and economic resource sovereignty.

The breathless media coverage of the transaction, which saw the government take a 51 percent stake in PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), previously majority-owned by Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan, framed it as the “return” of a prized asset — the Grasberg gold and copper mine — to the Indonesian public after decades of foreign control.

But little was said about the long legacy of toxic pollution from the mine, or how exactly the new arrangement, at a cost of $3.85 billion to Indonesia, would finally bring real benefits to the indigenous people on whose land the mine sits, and who remain among the most impoverished communities in Indonesia.

 

Inheriting a pollution problem

Under the terms of the acquisition, a 41.2 percent stake in PTFI goes to state-owned smelting company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium, better known as Inalum. A 10 percent stake is held by the government of Papua province, where Grasberg is located. That latter stake, in turn, is managed 60:40 between an Inalum-controlled company and a province-owned firm. Freeport remains the operator of the mine.

But along with ownership in one of the most coveted mines on Earth, Inalum and the Papua government have also inherited a pollution problem stemming from the mining waste, or tailings, churned out by PTFI over decades.

“Does the completion of the divestment deal mean that the environmental problems can be resolved? No,” said Merah Johansyah Ismail, national coordinator of the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam), an NGO. Following the takeover, he says, the national and provincial governments will also have to take the brunt of the fallout from the environmental damage caused by the mining operations.

Read moreWith Its $3.85b Mine Takeover, Indonesia Inherits a $13b Pollution Problem

5 Bird Species Lose Protections, More at Risk in New Indonesia Decree

  • Five bird species in Indonesia have lost their protected status under a new ministerial decree, issued last month in response to complaints from songbird collectors.
  • The decree also establishes additional guidelines for birds to be granted protected status, which effectively sets the stage for any species to be dropped from the list if it is deemed of high economic value to the songbird fan community.
  • Scientists and wildlife experts have criticized the removal of the five species from the protected list, and the new criteria for granting protected status.
  • Indonesia is home to the largest number of threatened bird species in Asia, but their populations in the wild are severely threatened by overexploitation.

JAKARTA — A new decree from Indonesian authorities drops five bird species from a newly expanded list of protected wildlife, and potentially sets the stage for more to follow by widening the scope under which protected status can be rescinded.

The capture and trade of the white-rumped shama (Kittacincla malabarica), Javan pied starling (Gracupica jalla), straw-headed bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus), Sangihe shrikethrush (Colluricincla sanghirensis) and little shrikethrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha) will remain illegal without a government permit, but the lack of protected status means violators won’t face the jail time or hefty fines prescribed in the 1990 Conservation Act.

Four of the birds were among hundreds of species added to the ministry’s list of protected species this past June. The fifth bird, the little shrikethrush, was on the original list published in 1999. All five have now been removed from the list following the publication on Sept. 5 of a decree from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry

The capture of wild birds is to be regulated through a government permit-and-quota system that is supposed to consider recommendations from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), a state-funded think tank. Mohammad Irham, a senior ornithologist at LIPI, said his institution would reject requests to capture any of the five now-unprotected species from the wild.

He criticized the rescinding of their protected status, saying it would hasten their decline in the wild. “Our decision is based on scientific data, papers and surveys on the populations of these species in the wild,” he told Mongabay.

The ministerial decree also establishes additional guidelines for birds to be granted protected status, such as the popularity of a given species for breeding and for songbird competitions.

Under current rules, protected status can be granted to a species that is native to Indonesia, has a limited range, and has a small and dwindling population. But the decree adds new criteria for birds alone: the popularity of a species among breeders and hobbyists, the extent to which it contributes to people’s livelihoods, and the frequency with which it appears in songbird competitions.

“There’s a huge local economy aspect to the birdkeeping business,” Wiratno, the environment ministry’s director general for biodiversity conservation, told reporters on Oct. 2.

Read more5 Bird Species Lose Protections, More at Risk in New Indonesia Decree

Indonesian Conservation Bill is Weak on Wildlife Crime, Critics Say

An orangutan hanging between trees in a Bornean rainforest in East Kalimantan, a province in the Indonesian part of the island. Photo by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

 

  • Lawmakers in Indonesia have submitted for review to President Joko Widodo’s administration a bill that would overhaul the country’s 28-year-old conservation law.
  • While environmental advocates have long pushed for updates to the law, the new draft has alarmed many with its various provisions that critics say represent a regression from the existing legislation.
  • Problem articles include a “self-defense” clause that would waive criminal charges for killing protected wildlife; a more nebulous definition of wildlife crime that some fear could make it harder to crack down on traffickers; and the opening up of conservation areas to geothermal exploration and other “strategic development” projects.
  • The ball is now in the court of the government, which is required to review the bill before sending it back to parliament for final passage. However, a minister says the government will “hold off” on its review, and suggests the existing conservation law is sufficient.

 

JAKARTA — Environmental advocates have warned that proposed revisions to Indonesia’s conservation act could provide new loopholes for wildlife traffickers, who already enjoy a thriving trade in one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.

The revision of the conservation act, formally the Natural Resources Conservation Law of 1990, was widely anticipated to help authorities crack down harder on the illegal wildlife trade. And the latest draft submitted by parliament to the government for review does make some moves toward that goal: it would ban the trade in species not mentioned on Indonesia’s list of protected species but that are regulated by CITES, the main international treaty on endangered animals and plants. For instance, it could help close a loophole that allows traffickers to move items such as African elephant ivory through the Southeast Asian country with impunity.

But critics point to a longer list of problems with the bill. It makes no mention of online trafficking, a growing problem as traders move to platforms such as Facebook and Kaskus, Indonesia’s largest internet forum. It doesn’t seem to address the issue of giving endangered animal parts as gifts — a practice still carried out in places like Papua province, where officials have been known to distribute souvenirs made from rare birds-of-paradise.

Neither does it upgrade sentencing guidelines for wildlife crimes that conservationists say are in dire need of change. Under the current legislation, traffickers can receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison. But in reality, offenders are rarely prosecuted; on the few occasions they are, they typically receive token sentences far below the maximum. Conservationists have called for the introduction of minimum sentences to combat the problem.

“This bill falls short of our expectations,” Samedi, program director at the Indonesia Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati), said at a recent press conference in Jakarta, convened by NGOs to air their concerns about the bill. “It weakens the current law which is already pretty weak.”

Read moreIndonesian Conservation Bill is Weak on Wildlife Crime, Critics Say