The Leuser Ecosystem is the only region in the world where elephants, orangutans, tigers and rhinos co-exist. It is Sumatra’s largest rainforest, Asia’s largest carbon sink and has received the World Heritage Status by UNESCO as well as protection under national law. Campaigns for the protection of the ecosystem date back to the early 1800s, when traditional leaders in the province set out to convince the Dutch colonial government of the importance of its conservation .
Contemporary national legislation acknowledges the uniqueness of the region, and has granted it official protected status, making activities such as logging, hunting, large-scale cultivation and infrastructural development illegal . However, as part of the peace agreement made by the end of the civil war raging in the province 1976-2005, Aceh was granted special territorial status, allowing it to govern its natural resources and land use autonomously. The province’s first post-war governor established Badan Pengelola Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser (BPKEL), an authority set out to prevent illegal activities wihin Leuser. However, as a new provincial government came to power in 2012, the BPKEL was dissolved and a new spatial plan for the province was launched, which did not acknowledge the Leuser ecosystem and disregarded its protected status on national level . Much land not comprised by the Gunung Leuser National Park are left available for development .
Due to poor forest governance and weak law enforcement (partly stemming from the conflict between national law and provincial planning), establishments of oil palm plantations and developments of infrastructure are widespread, just as mining, logging, and fires . Furthermore, a moratorium on forest clearance was announced by the national government in 2016, which was not respected by companies operating on the ground, although it helped to slow down destructive activities .
Due to the large amounts of carbon stored in ecosystem's peatlands and forests, these activities do a negative impact on the global climate . Further, apart from generating a large-scale disturbance of the ecosystem functions, the intense logging has caused floods, landslides and subsequent livelihood losses both in and outside the ecosystem, in times of heavy rains . On the other hand, deforestation also reduces the amount of water available to communities dependent on water provision from Leuser, as well as it leads to soil erosion and reduced pest control  . Furthermore, it has generated disturbances of elephant migration patterns, leading to increased human-animal contact. This, in turn, has resulted in crop and property destruction as well as elephant poisoning and poaching .
Local activism and resistance has focused on law enforcement and legal justice rather than conservation and wildlife, while international engagement tends to focus on the latter . In 2016, an Aceh citizen movement, organised under the name Gerakan Rakyat Aceh Menggugat – The Aceh Citizen Lawsuit Movement – (GeRAM) filed a lawsuit against the Aceh Provincial Government and the Federal Ministry of Home Affairs, pledging for an abolishment of the current spatial plan. The suit was rejected by the Federal Government later the same year   .
Today, around 30 plantation companies are operating on the ground in the . The three biggest buyers of palm oil sourced from the Leuser ecosystem are Wilmar International, Musim Mas and Gold Agri-Resources Ltd, which in turn supply palm oil to the Snack Food 20 – 20 large snack producing companies, listed as the biggest corporate players in the global palm oil conflict. Those include Unilever, Nestlé S.A., Mars Inc, Kellogg Company and PepsiCo Inc  .