"Of the 44 countries which collectively account for 90% of the world's forests, the country which pursues the highest annual rate of deforestation is Indonesia with 1.8m ha (4,447,896 acres) of forest destroyed each year between 2000-2005, a rate of 2% annually, or 51 km_ (20 miles_) destroyed every day," stated Greenpeace.
This is not the only unwelcome environmental accolade the country has received this year. A report released in March on "Indonesia and Climate Change: Current Status and Policies" sponsored by the World Bank and the British, ranked Indonesia among the world's top three greenhouse gas emitters due to deforestation, peatland degradation and forest fires.
According to the report, "Emissions resulting from deforestation and forest fires are five times those from non-forestry emissions. Emissions from energy and industrial sectors are relatively small, but are growing very rapidly".
In response, Rachmat Witoelar, the environment minister, told the local press, "I understand we are classified as a big emitter yet we are not the third biggest." He also dismissed the Greenpeace report on deforestation.
The harshest estimates say that Indonesia has already lost 72% of its original forests. Global demand for timber, paper and palm oil are fueling devastation that includes illegal logging, forest fires and tree clearing to make way for palm oil plantations for bio-fuels.
Forest fires, often deliberately lit by farmers as well as timber and oil palm plantation owners, are a regular occurrence. The United Nations (UN) has praised efforts to curb illegal practices.
"We can only applaud the efforts of the Indonesia authorities to stamp out illegal logging and illegal timber trading," stated Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Among the signs that point to Indonesia's commitment to stamp out illegal logging are the seizure of 30,000 cubic meters of processed wood in Nunukan, in East Kalimantan province, and the arrest of six people. Another 40,000 cubic meters and related arrests also took place in the province. Steiner estimated that illegal logging in Indonesia is a business worth $4bn annually.
Last month, Southeast Asian environment ministers gathered for a meeting on Sumatra, to "recognise the urgency and importance of regional preparedness to tackle land and forest fires and trans-boundary haze pollution in the coming dry season.". The meeting resulted in an action plan designed to teach farmers to avoid slash-and-burn practices and to provide them with farming equipment. Indonesia has set aside a budget of $78m to cover efforts in this domain for 2007, said Witoelar.
Cutting forest fires is not enough though. "Even if forest fires were taken out of the equation, Indonesia would still be one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters," said Agus P. Sari from Pelangi Energi Abadi Citra Enviro (PEACE), the consulting arm of an Indonesian institute dealing with the environment.
Next December, Bali will host over 180 countries' representatives for UN-led climate talks at the next annual Kyoto Protocol meeting. The current Kyoto Protocol is due to expire in 2012 and does not include any provisions for encouraging countries to reduce deforestation. This is in stark contrast to the fact that forests contribute more to global carbon emissions than transport.
A report on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation (RED) will be released at the summit and it is hoped that emission cuts from forest areas will become eligible for global carbon trading in any new international climate policy. Carbon trading is a system that encourages investment in emission reduction schemes in developing countries and economies in transition as a way to help nations meet their emissions targets under Kyoto.