Indonesia has banned cutting down peatland and primary forests for two years Friday in a financial deal with Norway that officials say will protect half of the remaining forests in the tropical archipelago.
Deforestation, the burning of woodlands or the rotting of felled trees, is thought to account for up to 20 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere -- as much as is emitted by all the world's cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined.
That has made Indonesia -- in its rush to supply the world with pulp, paper and, more recently palm oil -- the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China.
The deal that was signed last year and took effect Friday will protect 64 million hectares (158 million acres) of trees from logging and conversion into plantations, said Pungki Agus Purnomo, a presidential adviser.
Last year, developed nations pledged more than $4 billion to finance a new U.N.-backed program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation aimed at encouraging countries like Indonesia to keep their remaining trees standing.
Norway agreed, as part of a bilateral agreement that was heavily tied to the moratorium, to pay a fixed sum per ton of CO2 emissions that Indonesia reduces through rain forest preservation. The agreement could yield up to $1 billion and is meant to help finance an independent system of monitoring and quantifying CO2 emissions.
Environmental groups praised the long-awaited freeze as a good first step, but said much more needs to be done if Indonesia is to meet its stated target of cutting greenhouse gasses by 26 percent by 2020.
"This is a positive development," not only for climate change but for the incredible biodiversity these forests hold, said Daniel Murdiyarso, a senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Bogor. "This will see a large area of natural forest protected from being cleared."
But because concessions can still be awarded in "secondary forests" -- areas where some trees already have been removed or burned down -- the short-term impact will likely be limited.
At the same time, in recent years, many permits have been issued to loggers and concession holders in forests that have yet to be developed.
Greenpeace hailed the moratorium but noted it was still far from the president's commitment to protect forest and would leave millions of acres open to being destroyed.
"Based on map analysis by Greenpeace, the moratorium should cover 104.8 million hectares (259 million acres) of Indonesian forests to make it a more meaningful commitment," said a statement from Bustar Maitar, Southeast Asian forest campaigner of Greenpeace.