Environmental News: Battle Heats Up Over Turkish Energy Company’s Plans To Destroy Indonesian World Heritage Site

A consortium of environmental groups in Aceh and North Sumatra have today called on Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment to immediately reject plans to destroy a critically important region of the ‘Sumatran Tropical Rainforest Heritage – World Heritage Site’.

by Tom for the Orangutan Conservancy

As 2016 creaks to an end, battle lines are being formed to protect a large area of the Gunung Leuser National Park from construction of a future geothermal energy plant that would adversely affect orangutans and many other species that call this biodiversity corridor home.

The area in question is currently designated as a Core Area of the Gunung Leuser National Park and is supposedly protected from such wanton destruction. In order for the project to be legally permissible this status would have to be downgraded by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Local environmental groups warn that if rezoning is granted, and the project is allowed to move forward it would have major consequences for the survival of several critically endangered species that depend on this corridor for movement and reproduction.

The Kappi region is the core of the only remaining major habitat corridor connecting the eastern and western forest block of the National Park, which is part of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra World Heritage Site and part of the larger Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area further protected under Indonesian Law for its environmental function. This fact makes Aceh Governor, Zaini Abdullah’s, written request to Indonesia’s Minister of Environment and Forestry to rezone nearly 8,000 hectares of protected forest even more baffling.

Panut Hadisiswoyo, Director of the Orangutan Information Centre stated, “Previously we have seen some positive statements from Government regarding this project. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Director for Conservation, Tachrir Fathoni, in September confirmed that the Minister had received a letter from the Aceh Governor requesting the status change and told media that “from socialization and public consultation, the result was disagreement with the rezoning, so that’s that. The plan stops there,” – but now we see the company continuing with their plans and still trying to get Government support to rezone a part of a globally important World Heritage Site and turn it into a geothermal plant. We are confused and extremely concerned by the conflicting messages coming from the Ministry who are supposed to be protecting this area,” Panut stressed. “We completely oppose the rezoning request.”

Efendi Isma, Spokesperson of KPHA, added, “Aceh’s own department of mining and energy’s website shows the potential of geothermal energy in the Leuser forests is very small relative to the potential in other parts of Aceh. Most of these alternatives are also much closer to Aceh’s main human population hubs, and hence closer to the demand and more efficient. It seems ridiculous that this alternative potential is not exploited first, and that the first project to be developed could end up right in the middle of Aceh’s most precious and irreplaceable protected area,” he exclaimed.

The consortium – comprised of OIC, HAkA and KPHA – is urging Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment to immediately reject the possibility of downgrading the status of the region.

The Orangutan Conservancy urges our supporters and those who care about the future of orangutans to write to Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry and Environment to protect Leuser as well as to Hitay Holdings, the Turkish company behind the geothermal plant, to encourage them to abandon their misguided plans to construct this potentially devastating project in the heart of Leuser.

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