Reaching a Tipping Point: Using REDD+ to Overcome Challenges in Indonesia

The complex challenges in implementing REDD+ in Indonesia cause some skeptics to question the feasibility of the program.  Where others see problems, Heru Prasetyo, head of National REDD+ Agency and head of President’s Delivery Unit on Development, sees opportunity. He believes that REDD+ itself can be the catalyst to solve many of the underlying governance and sustainability problems in Indonesia.  To Prasetyo, REDD+ is about so much more than carbon.  He sees REDD+ as an investment, one that is in the crucial nexus of climate change and development where Indonesia can accomplish sustainable growth with equity. 

Heru Prasetyo, head of National REDD+ Agency and head of President’s Delivery Unit on Development points out how REDD+ explains the interconnected dynamics of REDD+

Heru Prasetyo, head of National REDD+ Agency and First Deputy President of  the President’s Delivery Unit on Development points out how REDD+ explains the interconnected dynamics of REDD+

The launch of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) at Bali 2007, like so many environmental innovations, was met with fanfare and unrealistic expectations. Early supporters championed the idea as a way to help limit global warming to 2 OC with affordable market trading and payments for results-based ecosystem services.  REDD+ was finally agreed at UNFCCC COP 19 in Warsaw, but the honeymoon phase is ending and critics point to several problems in Indonesia that could threaten REDD+ success:

  1. Decentralization:  The decentralization in 1999 caused ambiguity in rules and authority at each level of government and opened the doors to increased deforestation.  District officials often used their new authority to issue extraction permits.  Under this system, wealthy corporations can exploit this ambiguity to continue deforestation.  Without reform, it is difficult to make large scale concerted efforts for conservation.
  2. Multilevel governance: Coordination is needed at all levels of government from customary law of local people all the way to their federal government.
  3. Corruption: Throughout our stay in Indonesia, nearly every speaker pointed to problems with corruption.  According to a new Gallup poll, 91% of Indonesians believe corruption is widespread in the government. Corruption impedes enforcement, and according to the Global Corruption Barometer 2013, reported bribes paid to the judiciary are up 20% and the police are still perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country.
  4. Foreign corporation land ownership: A handful of powerful companies have licenses to a huge proportion of Indonesia’s land for palm oil, mining, paper pulp, etc.   According to Prasetyo, 3.5 million hectares (larger than the size of Haiti) have been licensed to one company.  38.2% of Aceh, 65.2% of Riau, and 85.6% of Central Kalimantan are already licensed for exploitation.  So much land held by foreign companies raises the question, who owns Indonesia?
  5. Unknown land cover and boundaries:  Oil palm plantations, mining companies, customary/indigenous people, and different government agencies have overlapping claims to many areas of forest. Not only are there different maps of ownership of the land, but also different definitions of forest cover and classifications of the land. The lack of maps designating customary land often gives openings for wealthy companies to claim ownership of ancestral land.
  6. Conflicts brewing:  Stakeholders operating under such ambiguity and overlapping forest claims is a recipe for violence. Conflict is erupting between lawyers in court rooms and on the ground among customary peoples, companies, and each level of government. 
  7. Destruction out of poverty and necessity: Deforestation and other unsustainable land use can offer a quick burst of cash that local people may need in case of a medical or other emergency. 
  8. Prioritizing growth: Indonesia is currently experiencing 7% annual GDP growth.  It is unlikely that Indonesia will sacrifice growth or its people’s rights in the name of curbing climate change. 
  9. Deforestation and emission rates:  In the 1990s, Indonesia deforested over 25 M HA, an area larger than New England, New Jersey, and Maryland combined, winning the Guinness Book of World Records’ listing for highest deforestation rate (Steni et al 2012). Under a business as usual scenario, Indonesia could emit 3 billion tons of CO2 in 2020, 60% of which would be from forest and peat land deforestation.
  10. Uncertainties in carbon markets:  With the recent crash of the carbon trading price and the retreat of developed nations, many government officials worry that there will be no worthwhile market for carbon.

Some skeptics use these challenges to argue that REDD+ is futile. They want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Heru Prasetyo turns this argument on its head.  He sees REDD+ as the opportunity to solve these problems that face his country including policy reform at all levels of government.  It may be the first domino to creating a model for how the world can develop sustainably. REDD+ along with the $1billion donated by Norway can be the seed that grows into solutions for many of Indonesia’s challenges.  Prasetyo is confident that his new agency can succeed without succumbing to corruption or allocating licenses.  It is a difficult task, but his track record coordinating the tsunami relief effort in Aceh with less than 1% of relief funding lost to corruption is a good sign.  The agency formed last month is poised to tackle these tasks:

  1. License moratorium: At the core of this initiative is the moratorium that stops new land licenses from being issued. The government is using this moratorium as an opportunity to reassess and restructure land governance.
  2. Expose corruption: Growing out of the moratorium are new procedures to stem corruption.  For example, each governor signed an anticorruption agreement.  There is a new focus on going after the heads of companies that are illegally logging rather than the hired poor locals found at the scene.
  3. Extensive mapping: The agency is working on a mapping project to decrease conflicts and bring all disparate maps into one system with an inclusive landscape approach. This will incorporate multilevel governance and give a voice to the people in designating the boundaries of their land. The maps could be used to formally and peacefully resolve conflicts.

    One piece of land often has several competing claims and ownership discrepancies among various stakeholders.

    One piece of land often has several competing claims and ownership discrepancies among various stakeholders.

  4. Facilitate review and revoke licenses to proposed lands:  According to Prasetyo, revoking licenses is the only option for halting deforestation. Indonesia wants its land back from foreign companies.
  5. Provide alternatives to exploitation: Through REDD+ and investing in carbon sequestration schemes, Prasetyo believes that indigenous people will have alternatives to deforestation in managing their own land.
  6. Let 1000 flowers bloom at once:  Through coalition-building and pilot projects, Prasetyo is working to change the hearts and minds of the palm oil industry and find innovative solutions that can be scaled up at different levels.  There are already more than 40 pilot REDD+ projects on the ground. The true paradigm shift is accomplished through collaborations and consulting among different entities that were working in isolation or conflict with each other in the past.

The real driver to the success of REDD+ will still be investment through the continued stages of conservation, reforestation and restoration.  With the recent crash in the carbon exchange prices, Prasetyo sees REDD+ as a longer term investment.  He noted that he is often asked by groups like ours if there is any business benefit for the market of carbon.  And he responds that for thousands of years, there was no market for oil either.

UMD graduate student Mathew Popkin adds some poignant questions about implementation to the conversation.

UMD graduate student Mathew Popkin adds some poignant questions about implementation to the conversation.

There is always a tipping point.  Just like the world discovered its thirst for oil, the world will realize sooner or later the desperate need for carbon sequestration and forests.  Prasetyo noted that when the developed world starts seeing the full effects of climate change, or when the sea starts flooding New York, there will suddenly be profit to earn in carbon markets.  Indonesia is working to invest in their forests so they can be ready to harvest the profits of their sustained rainforests when the market arises.

The big remaining question is whether the international community and internal stakeholders will have the patience and resolve to continue supporting REDD+.  President Yudhoyono showed his support at a G20 meeting where he declared that Indonesia would decrease emissions by 26% alone and an additional 15% with foreign investment.  However, it is unclear if the new president to be elected this year will be as supportive of REDD+. As the fanfare subsides and the real grunt work of implementation comes, will there still be enough support left to truly reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation? Only time will tell.

-Ben Alexandro

Steni, Bernadinus, HuMa Hadad, and Nadia Hadad. REDD+ Safeguards in Indonesia. Bank Information Center, Mar. 2012. Web. 1 Jan 2014.

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