As the largest producer of palm oil globally, Indonesia faces extraordinary deforestation risks, primarily from land clearing for agricultural development. Between 2005 and 2018, the island country lost 22.1 million hectares of primary forest, negatively impacting the country’s indigenous population, biodiversity, and emissions.

Why it matters

  • $10.4M Value of palm oil exports, 2019.
  • 11.9M Total area of oil palm plantations. In millions of hectares.

Hectares of tree loss

Deforestation by region, 2005 - 2018
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Forest loss in context

Tree cover loss is typically measured in hectares. One hectare is equivalent to about 3/4 of a football pitch. In these terms, roughly 158,000 football pitches of Indonesian tropical forest have been lost between 2005 and 2018. This is equivalent to 221,493 kilometers, 137,629 miles, or five times the size of Denmark.

Aerial view of Sawit plantation in Indonesia.

Risk factors

Deforestation risks in Indonesia mostly surround the expansion of palm oil production, whether for consumer goods, such as snacks or cosmetics, or biofuels for transportation. Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer, and the country’s economic performance is highly dependent on a robust industry.

Indonesia Palm Field Drone Footage
Drone view of rainforest damage caused by palm oil plantations

Government efforts

The government has issued a moratorium on forest clearing to curb deforestation. This action has been only modestly successful as large areas of forests that were protected are still being cleared. Moreover, some plantations continue to deforest land despite the law, as there are still outlets for dirty palm oil.

Company actions

While government initiatives have helped curb deforestation rates in recent years, so have company actions. Many large Fast-Moving Consumer Goods companies and major palm oil traders have committed to eliminating deforestation in their supply chains but have fallen short of this goal.

Economic growth

The government, despite its moratorium, has mandated an increase in the amount of palm oil in biodiesel fuel to help the industry, an action that increases the risk of additional deforestation. While palm oil production is the largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia, the pulp and paper, mining, and illegal logging also contribute.

Indigenous peoples

Besides the impact on climate change, deforestation is detrimental to the livelihoods of indigenous groups and endangered species in Indonesia.

Fires in Indonesia, April 2020: Each yellow dot is a fire observed by NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.

Fire hot spots

During its dry season, Indonesia faces a spike in illegal fires in tropical forests and peatlands to clear land for agricultural purposes.

What is the cause?

The majority of these fires are concentrated in government awarded concessions or peatlands that are cleared and drained for agricultural development. Palm oil production, in particular, is associated with clear-cutting and setting fire to forested land to remove roots and forest debris.

What is the impact?

In the worst years, fires can increase Indonesia’s total emissions by up to a factor of three. Fires in High Carbon Stock (HCS) areas, such as carbon and methane-rich peatlands, directly contribute to climate change through high greenhouse gas emissions. Fires in High Conservation Value (HCV) areas magnify impacts on biodiversity and encroach on indigenous territories.

Where are the fires?

Since 2000, the Indonesian provinces of South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan, and Riau have seen the highest occurrence of fires. However, Papua has emerged as a new fire hot spot in Indonesia as, comparatively, it has a much greater amount of undeveloped forested land.


Homepage numbers: Tree cover loss (since 2005), Global Forest Watch; Deforestation as a percentage of GHG emissions, 2005-2016, Climate Watch; National goal for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, Climate Action Tracker.

Deforestation map: Tree cover loss since 2005 by region, Global Forest Watch; Value of palm oil exports, 2019, International Trade Center; Total area of oil palm plantations, Indonesia Investments.


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