The 2.6 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem, located in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, in Indonesia, is recognized as one of the world’s foremost “irreplaceable protected areas” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It contains a large part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS) World Heritage Site within its borders, a site that has been on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger’’ since 2011 due to ongoing destruction of its rainforest ecosystem.
Today, a wave of major new industrial projects being fast tracked for development within the Leuser Ecosystem threaten to destroy the integrity of the site, despite the fact that they will violate Indonesian laws and make a mockery of the World Heritage Site listing.
A consortium of NGOs focused on the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem submitted a report on Monday 20th March 2017 to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre (WHC) critiquing the Indonesian State Party’s 2017 report to the WHC about the state of conservation of the TRHS.
A Turkish-‐owned company, PT Hitay Panas Energi, has been lobbying the Indonesian government to remove protections from a ‘core zone’ of the World Heritage Site to allow a power plant to be built in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem. Their request was supported by the outgoing Governor of Aceh province, Zaini Abdullah.
However following last month’s elections, new Aceh Governor-‐elect, Irwandi Yusuf, has stated publicly that he will cancel the Hitay project.
“We strongly welcome the Governor-‐elect’s move.” commented Farwiza Farhan, Chairperson of Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (HAkA), “But at the same time we are alarmed to know the company is still pushing the national government to overrule this decision by Aceh’s incoming Governor.”
Panut Hadisiswoyo, Director of Orangutan Information Centre, commented, “Our critique highlights numerous serious threats to Leuser’s forests. They include several new hydropower dams and geothermal energy plants being proposed in critical areas, a continued lack of law enforcement throughout the region and the devastating construction of new roads that carve up and fragment forests and wildlife populations rendering them increasingly vulnerable to extinction.”
Dr. Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme stated “The Leuser Ecosystem is almost certainly the largest remaining contiguous rainforest ecosystem in the whole of SE Asia. It’s also the last real hope for the survival of some of the world’s most iconic large mammal species, like the Sumatran tiger, elephant, rhino and orangutan, and many other rare and threatened species, many of which, like these are endemic to the region and found nowhere else on the planet. Its ironic that such a precious and valuable ecosystem like Leuser, and all its biodiversity, could be obliterated in the name of renewable energy!”