A coalition of NGOs has submitted a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in a bid to save a remote expanse of tropical rainforest in Indonesia’s Aceh province.
Local NGOs, including the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program as well as the Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh (Haka), have raised serious concerns regarding a proposed geothermal power plant, which they claim could harm the heritage-listed Leuser Ecosystem.
Leuser is an expanse of 2.6 million hectares of remote, mountainous jungle which has been on Unesco’s World Heritage in Danger List since 2011 due to increasing encroachment by oil palm plantations.
Ninety percent of Sumatra’s 6,000 remaining orangutan live in Leuser, which Haka says is also one of Asia’s largest carbon sinks.
Haka chairman Farwiza Farhan told Asian Correspondent the remote Kappi Valley in Leuser – the proposed site of the geothermal plant – is an important habitat for wildlife. She says geothermal is considered mining, and that the region’s Unesco status means it cannot “take place legally.”
“The construction process and efforts to connect the plant into the grid will be destructive for wildlife, for the forest and people,” she said.
Leuser is the last place on earth where the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, elephant, tiger and orangutan co-exist in the wild. According to the International Union for the Conservation of nature, only 700 to 1,000 Sumatran elephants remain in the wild.
“Species interaction with the environment ensures the long-term health of the forest – so the forest could continue to provide ecosystem services like clean water and air important to livelihoods of over four million people living within and around the Leuser Ecosystem,” Farwiza said.
In March 2016, Academy Award winner and prominent environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio visited the Leuser Ecosystem along with fellow Hollywood stars Adrien Brody and Fisher Stevens. The actor’s foundation financially supports a planned sanctuary in Leuser, a joint initiative of OIC and Haka.
DiCaprio was subsequently placed on an immigration blacklist by the Indonesian government, who disapproved of his critical posts on social media.
California-based NGO Rainforest Action Network says the Leuser Ecosystem is “among the most biodiverse and ancient ecosystems ever documented by science” and has called for a moratorium on palm oil expansion in the region.
“The government has to prove they will do better in managing the site,” Farwiza said.