Fighting for ecological justice

REDD, Redemption or Real Action?

BOGOR, West Java (JP): REDD is the latest acronym in climate change town. It stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and is also now the hottest show leading up to the next UN climate meeting.

One of the strongest advocates is the UN climate meeting host, Indonesia, as deforestation and forest degradation is believed to contribute 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emission.

Under the proposed REDD scheme, Indonesia has said that it would select four forests from across the country to pilot the project. The four forest projects would be located in South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, North Sumatra and Southeast Sulawesi (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 26, 2007). It is not yet clear, however, how exactly four pilot projects will help reduce overall emissions in Indonesia instead of just push more deforestation elsewhere.
On the other hand, the provincial governments of Aceh, West Papua, and Papua, supported by international NGOs and courted by carbon brokers, have been actively seeking ways to implement REDD in their respective territories.

A Forest Watch Indonesia report shows Papua and West Papua have the biggest intact forest landscape in Indonesia, totaling 17,9 million hectares (Greenpeace/FWI, 2006).

Being as environmentally aware and close to mother earth as they are, the Papuan people and governments have repeatedly shown their commitment to sustainable development, recognition of indigenous peoples and their tenure rights, and community logging, which means community-based and sustainable timber and non-timber products and environmental services forestry.

Some weeks ago the governors of both provinces stated their commitment to shipping only processed timber instead of the logs and sawn timber of today. For this, Time Magazine has named Papua Governor Barnabas Suebu, along with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Prince Charles, a Hero of the Environment.

Aceh is also pushing forward with policies for a logging moratorium, which will lead to redesigning forestry in the province. The province is taking initial steps towards producing a pilot project under the REDD mechanism. This pilot project in the Ulu Masen ecosystem in North Aceh, is currently being audited for compliance with the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standards.

However, while much focus has been placed on avoiding deforestation in Aceh and Papua, the ongoing disasters are occurring mostly in Kalimantan and Sumatra. Indonesia’s carbon emissions come from forest fires, conversion of forest into other uses, unsustainable industrial logging, and other destructive activities that affect forests.

Of these, the destruction of peat swamp forests is thought to be the most significant as a hectare of 1 meter deep peat swamp forest holds 600 tons of carbon, compared to approximately 200 tons of carbon in one hectare of tropical forest. The peat layer in these forests is usually 10 to 20 meters deep. This carbon stock is be released during peat land fires, or when canals are built and peat swamp forests are dried and turned into paddy fields or palm oil plantations. A case of the latter is the one million hectare peat land project in Kalimantan, initiated under the Soeharto regime, and efforts to revive them are still alive today.

Dried peat swamp forests risk fires, again releasing more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. So, logically, if Indonesia wants to cut its emissions, and if the world is really serious about climate change, deforestation and forest degradation, and more importantly forest fires and peat swamp forests’ destruction must be addressed.

Daily we see the most active proponents of trade in order to reduce emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, and land use changes, are international organizations and consultants. Indonesia has been lagging behind in terms of actually developing projects on the ground.

If Indonesia wants to significantly contribute to reducing emissions for the world, it needs to address the more difficult challenge of rehabilitating and restoring forests in heavily deforested Kalimantan and Sumatra, and prevent forest fires. And, unless overall policy and practices are changed, this will also mean that the government needs to drop the huge palm oil and industrial timber plantation expansion plans significantly. Indeed, this mammoth challenge has come with higher economic costs, keeping carbon brokers and potential carbon buyers away from the islands.

The Ministry of Forestry has spent Rp 8,7 trillion (approximately US$934 million) since 2003 for forest and land rehabilitation. In a sense Indonesia does not need to rely (too much or at all?) on the carbon market to finance rehabilitating forests and prevent forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Instead, the government should rely more on the local communities, recognizing their rights of tenure, and facilitate them to implement community-based and sustainable forestry in a community logging scheme – it is in supporting these activities that deforestation rates have been reduced, for example in Konaweha Selatan in Southeast Sulawesi, or Gunung Kidul in Yogyakarta and Wonogiri in Central Java.

Setting up carbon forests, national parks and protected areas, or developing legality standards for timber and timber trading, will be just dealing with the symptoms of deforestation. In contrast, working on inequalities in land tenure, discrimination against indigenous peoples and farmers, participatory democracy, corruption and military involvement in resource economics and politics, over-consumption in high-income countries and uncontrolled industrialization, will mean addressing the underlying causes of deforestation.

REDD trading proposals should then be critically analyzed and put into the wider context of deforestation and not reduced to the focus of emissions from deforestation. The basic concept should be expanded from just rewarding the good to remain good, to also rewarding the bad to become good. Even if this means creating new acronyms such as Redemption (reducing emission from deforestation and degradation but more importantly from preventing forest fire and peat swamp forests’ destruction), or perhaps even Real Action (reducing emission by addressing the underlying causes of deforestation). –A. Ruwindrijarto

The writer is Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto, President of Telapak (, a forestry non-governmental organization based in Bogor, West Java.


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