Indonesia axes deal with WWF

Indonesia has cut ties with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) amid claims the organisation overstepped its role and unfairly criticised efforts to control last year’s forest fires.

Jakarta said it was ending a co-operation agreement that was signed in 1998 and was due to expire in 2023. 

Bambang Hendroyono, secretary-general at the ministry, accused WWF of allowing fires to start on its concession. 

The agreement in 1998 allowed WWF to enter conservation areas to monitor work on tigers, rhinos and other endangered species.

The concession mentioned by the ministry was given to a WWF restoration project in 2015, said Elis Nurhayati of WWF.

She denied the agency was responsible for the fires. Nurhayati also apologised if WWF’s social media posts had offended the authorities. 

An environment ministry spokesman said WWF had begun efforts linked to climate change, waste management and environmental issues that exceeded its mandate.

The unnamed spokesman said WWF incited social media criticism of the government response to fires on Sumatra and Borneo that released vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

“[WWF] negated and discredited government efforts,” said the ministerial spokesman. “A cooperation agreement must be in line with its legal mandate and show mutual respect.”

The forest fires were the worst since 2015, covering the region in smoke, including densely crowded Singapore. The World Bank estimated that the forest fires, which covered nearly 16,000 square km or an area half the size of Belgium – caused approximately US$5.2 billion in damage.

Indonesia produces the third-highest greenhouse-gas emissions after China and the US.

One of the affected areas will be Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in western Sumatra. The park contains one of the final large intact areas of dry lowland forest in Sumatra and three of the four Sumatran megafauna: orangutans, elephants and tigers. There are also at least 250 other recorded mammal and bird species.

WWF disputed the government’s allegations. 

“WWF Indonesia is committed to fulfilling its role and obligation as a member of civil society and to take part and contribute to the sustainable management of natural resources,” said WWF spokesman Kuntoro Mangkusubroto.

Jakarta-based WWF Indonesia has around 25 regional offices and is engaged in conservation projects, research and advises municipal governments on environmental policy.

The Sumatran rhino. Picture credit: Wikimedia