Indonesia and REDD+: Moving beyond carbon to sustainable development

REDD+ proponents hope to shift the focus towards improving forest governance, poverty alleviation and law enforcement.

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DOHA, Qatar (28 November 2012)_Indonesia is using a U.N.-backed climate mitigation scheme as more than just a tool to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation: It’s also seeking to develop a multi-pronged plan to improve forest governance and alleviate poverty.

People living in or around forests in the sprawling equatorial nation number at around 49 million, according to latest estimates. They also constitute one of the country’s largest groups of poor — a quarter of them living on less than $2 a day. These communities use the forests to get fuelwood, hunt and collect medicinal plants, bark and other non-timber products for use at home or sale at local markets.

“When you want to protect forests, you have to deal with the people who live within these forests,” said Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who heads Indonesia’s taskforce for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+.

Among other things, that means giving local communities economic incentives to actively help protect the trees that remain.

“That to me is moving beyond carbon … that’s the essence of REDD+,” Mangkusubroto said.

REDD+ aims to financially reward developing countries to preserve their carbon-rich forests. The scheme is a key element in Indonesia’s efforts to achieve its commitment to cut emissions by 26 percent from business-as-usual levels and by up to 41 percent with outside assistance by 2020.

The delay in large-scale funding for REDD+ projects internationally has seen many experts call for governments to prioritise both actions that build a foundation for REDD+, and to implement ‘no regrets’ policy reforms, such as improving forest governance, poverty alleviation and law enforcement.

While internationally, REDD+ has placed a heavy focus on the role of forests in slowing climate change, proponents in Indonesia have been shifting their strategies towards encouraging local communities to protect their forests by providing alternative livelihoods.

As such, REDD+ represents one way for Indonesia to meet its goal of ‘sustainable growth with equity,’ Mangkusubroto said.

“We are leaving the old paradigm of having trees cut and getting revenues from this, and entering a new era: the trees will stand, and at the same time revenues are received and people’s welfare is improved,” he said.

“The old thinking has been with us for 40 years, [now we are developing] this new way of thinking.”

Tackling environmental crime

One of the reasons that the rate of deforestation and forest degradation is high in Indonesia is because the illegal felling of trees often carries no consequences, said Mas Achmad Santosa, chief of the REDD+ taskforce’s legal review and law enforcement working group.

Santosa and his colleagues are trying to improve coordination between different enforcement agencies in the forestry sector. They are reviewing existing legislation and ensuring the proper legal arsenals are used whenever crackdowns on violators occur.

We are leaving the old paradigm of having trees cut and getting revenues from this, and entering a new era: the trees will stand, and at the same time revenues are received and people’s welfare is improved.

This means applying different regulations, including money laundering, anti-corruption or plantation laws, simultaneously when investigating environmental crimes or forestry-related violations, said Santosa, adding that the REDD+ taskforce is providing legal assistance and trainings to various law enforcement agencies on this issue.

They are also investigating several cases to showcase how to implement such a method.

Santosa cited the example of the recent Rawa Tripa peat swamp case in Aceh province, where there were reports a deep peat area was being converted into palm oil plantation, despite existing regulations banning such a practice.

An investigation by the Ministry of Environment pointed to violations of several environmental laws, including the illegal the use of fire to clear land, he said. Ministry of Forestry was using the protection/conservation law, looking at how orangutans were killed during clearing.

“The Governor of Aceh was encouraged to use his administrative powers to revoke the permit,” Santosa said. Governor Zaini Abdullah revoked the permit to convert around 1,600 hectares of Rawa Tripa’s peat swamps in late September.

With the REDD+ taskforce’s mandate ending this year, the law enforcement division is also working to develop the “one roof enforcement system”, where related government agencies work together to tackle environmental crimes using various regulations.

The Problem with Licenses

Another step that REDD+ is hoping to take is to encourage the review of existing licenses. The taskforce has signed an agreement with the government in Central Kalimantan province to review licenses in three districts as a trial, said Santosa.

The Ministry of Forestry’s Investigations chief, Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan, said his division had its hands full with claims of overlapping licenses.

“Our regents seem to have the authority to give out any license for forested areas,” he said, adding usually they have not been told when a license has been issued in a particular area.

“We calculated an estimated 2,500 licenses that did not comply with rules. Although a Minister had not issued a permit to borrow or use land for mining activities, or rights to release land for plantation purposes, land is being used for those very reasons.”

Investigations into 44 separate cases involving illegal or overlapping licenses had already begun, he said.

Moving forward with REDD+

To ensure that progress initiated by the taskforce continues to advance, a permanent national REDD+ agency will be launched by early next year, said Mangkusubroto.

“This agency will be independent and will report directly to the president. It will have authority and a set of powers to implement, coordinate and synchronise matters. Otherwise, things will end up very weak,” he said.

“Having a national agency like this is a prerequisite to ensure that we reach both Indonesia’s environmental and development goals.”

For more stories from the UN climate talks in Doha, click here.

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