RI-Norway partnership: REDD at a crossroads
The reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) initiative finds its real battlefield. After the announcement of the Indonesian-Norway partnership on the forestry sector, aimed to reduce carbon emissions from this sector, there have been intense debates on the issue. The question is will this scheme significantly contribute to solve forest degradation problems, with minimum harm to other sectors?
The main focus of the debate is the application of a two-year suspension on natural forest and peat land conversions. Even though forest companies also voice their concerns on the plan, the main opposition comes from oil palm plantation operators. This sector is believed to suffer most from the scheme (see Editorial The Jakarta Post, July 5). As Alan Oxley (the Post, July 12) argued, palm oil industries play an important role in poverty reduction.
On the other hand, many are doubtful on the real intentions behind the REDD scheme. Developed countries are still perceived for not having a genuine interest on forest conservation in developing countries. They are more interested in finding ways to escape from suffering their high carbon economy for the sake of the climate change issue. Even some people label initiatives such as REDD as a green colonialism. Therefore, the Forestry Ministry is actually facing two pressures at the same time: From the international community, which hopes this country to be successful in the program, as well as from the domestic public.
Well, let us be clear. The REDD concept was originally proposed by developing countries, namely Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, in conference of parties (COP) 11 2005 in Montreal, Canada. The concept is then developing until last year’s COP in Copenhagen and becomes REDD plus. High carbon emitter countries may be happy with the scheme since it could reduce pressure on their shoulders. However, developing countries with deforestation problems could also benefit. I believe that there is no such “free lunch”. But, that is the way international diplomacy works: Symbiotic mutualism, win-win solution. The challenge for us is to prove that these kinds of funds would be really useful for forest conservation.
Of course we do not want that major emitter countries deny their commitment on reducing their greenhouse emissions. The international community has to keep pushing a carbon reduction target on them. It is also important, in regards to the international agreement on REDD, to be very clear who could claim the emission reduction from the program once it has been verified: The donor or the recipient. It could become a major dispute between the two parties. We have to propose that the claim should be on us, the recipient, as the owner of the forests.
The debate on the effects of the scheme to oil palm industries, in my opinion, is quite tricky. It is just like a blame game, but who is the victim here? Does the deforestation moratorium adversely affect oil palm sector? Or, is the oil palm industry part of the cause of deforestation? We do not reject the importance of the oil palm sector to Indonesian economy. What we do not want is if this is only a short-term economic benefit. Forest resources are like a golden swan. Please do not kill the swan if we would like to keep harvesting its golden eggs.
Oil palm industries must show their commitment to the Indonesian long-term economy. It is now the time for this industry not only to think about land expansion, but also intensification. It is also a good momentum for the sector to improve their practice on sustainable oil palm plantations. Indonesia has accepted the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) principles. These principles are to ensure that the development of oil palm plantations consider environmental and social aspects. Nevertheless, it is not only oil palm industries, forest conversion temporary suspension could also allow forest companies to abide more with sustainable forest management practices.
REDD itself is not without negativity. The ability of this scheme to really reduce large scale deforestation is still doubtful. As a project, the REDD application is framed under time and space scales. The Indonesia-Norway agreement, for example, consists of three phases, which are framed under certain time scales. Even though, several policies are nationwide, the focus of the project will be based on pilot provinces, which will be about two or three in total. Therefore, its potential significant contribution to reduce national rates of deforestation is still questionable.
The two-year moratorium on natural forest and peat land conversion in fact is not too radical. Conversion permits that have been granted before this agreement as effective will not be canceled. The government is only not going to grant new conversion permits by early 2011. Hence, forest conversion could still be continuing. The next question is what will happen when the moratorium period is finished? There is an anxiety that after Indonesia receives its compensation for applying this moratorium, the rate of forest conversions could become higher.
Our natural forest has been degraded tremendously. Every effort to save it has to be supported. As part of the solution, a temporary ban on natural forest and peat land could become a good start. However, two years in fact are far than enough. One billion USD is far more than an adequate amount to improve our forest condition. However, we could utilize this agreement phase to really learn about what we desperately need to do to save our forests.
REDD alone does not ensure a declining rate of deforestation. Indonesia needs a long-term grand strategy to combat the high rate of deforestation, where REDD could be part of that strategy. A reduction in the rate of deforestation means an investment on a long-term economic, environmental and social benefit for this country.
The writer is an ecologist at the University of Bengkulu and an Australian Leadership Awards Fellow.