Indonesian province explores ‘green growth’ amidst economic expansion

Maximizing the economic use of degraded land may help to bridge the gap between economic growth and climate change.

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The rush to supply the world with pulp, paper, coal, nickel, tin and palm oil has seen more than half of Indonesia's forest cleared. Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

The rush to supply the world with pulp, paper, coal, nickel, tin and palm oil has seen more than half of Indonesia’s forest cleared. Mokhamad Edliadi/CIFOR

BOGOR, Indonesia (20 March, 2013)_Indonesia’s resource-rich province of East Kalimantan has two seemingly incompatible goals: By the end of the decade it says it wants to absorb US$70 billion in investments from palm oil, timber and mining companies and to slash carbon emissions from forest loss and land degradation by more than 15 percent.

But stakeholders who gathered last month in the city of Samarinda to develop a “green growth” approach to economic development were hopeful both may be possible.

They outlined several steps that will need to be taken including identifying mitigation options within land-based investment plans, making better use of degraded lands – also enabling more effective community engagement and land ownership – and stepping up efforts to harness technologies to develop renewable energy.

“We are reaching the limits of the use of natural resources in the province,” said Krystof Obidzinski, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research, and one of the presenters.

“We should be looking at optimising the land already allocated for commodity investments.”

A half-century ago, three-quarters of Indonesia was blanketed in plush, virgin rainforest. But in the rush to supply the world with everything from pulp and paper to coal, nickel, tin and most recently palm oil, used to make soap and cosmetics and “clean” fuel for the West, more than half of the forest area has been cleared, turning the country into the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet.

As part of UN-backed efforts to mitigate climate change, Indonesia pledged in 2009 to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from business as usual levels and by 41 percent with outside assistance by 2020. The target for East Kalimantan is 15.6 percent, according to its regional action plan.

Soon after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a two-year national moratorium on new forest concession licenses, drawing immediate praise and then some criticism because of the many loopholes.

Determined not to sacrifice economic development in the process, he also announced a “masterplan” for acceleration and expansion of economic development, saying he wanted the country to be one of the world’s 10 biggest economies by 2025, taking GDP to $4.5 trillion.

Kalimantan was identified as one of six growth centers for the plan with East Kalimantan playing a key role.

We are reaching the limits of the use of natural resources…we should be looking at optimising land already allocated for commodity investments.

The province’s “masterplan committee” decided to try to absorb $70 billion for investments into resource extraction by the end of the decade, focusing on everything from palm oil and timber to coal. Together such commodities are responsible for more than 96 percent of the province’s carbon emissions, according to a provincial task force overseeing emissions reductions.

That’s raised some eyebrows.

“One thing that is unavoidable when it comes to development, particularly large development projects such as (this) is the need for land,” Daddy Ruhiyat, Head of the East Kalimantan Regional Council on Climate Change, said at the Samarinda event, which attracted more than 80 local government officials, and members of the private sector, academia and non-governmental organisations.

“And (in East Kalimantan),” he added, “most of it is forested.”

Indeed, CIFOR scientist Obidzinski noted that 10.4 million hectares of forested land have been allocated for palm oil, timber plantations and coal mining concessions.

It’s a struggle Indonesia is not alone in facing.

Developing countries all over the world are trying to find ways to bridge the gap between economic growth and climate change — something that is likely to vary not only from one nation to another, but also at subnational levels.

Land-use issues often cause some of the biggest challenges.

But Suyitno Sudirman, Head of Pollution Control at the East Kalimantan Environment Agency, said if degraded, non-forest, land is used for new plantations, emissions could be reduced.

Others noted that maximizing the economic use of degraded land may also help the local people, enhancing employment opportunities, incomes, and their livelihoods in general.

“We know of many examples where communities have used degraded land for palm oil and rubber plantations, so there is no excuse not to utilise (such) land,” Suyitno  said. “The only thing left now is to address policy issues.”

“Rather than have investors choose the land, the government must determine and prepare degraded lands (for these investments.)”

Stakeholders at the meeting encouraged district and provincial government bodies to take advantage of current “green growth” efforts to make more concerted efforts to measure current and upcoming greenhouse gas emission levels arising from land use change   something that is also important for implementation of U.N.-backed efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation (REDD).

Concerns also were expressed about the negative socio-economic and cultural impact of economic growth on local communities – especially when they are excluded from the process.

Dr Ir. Ndan Imang from the Center for Social Forestry said steps need to be taken to protect the traditional Dayak culture.

“From previous experience, policies relating to and activities such as land concessions, timber plantations and oil palm plantations are not mindful of the local people who tend to be sidelined even though they have a high dependence on the forest for livelihoods through hunting and fishing,” he said.

“There are about 18 Dayak tribes in East Kalimantan. When a mine site is opened, the ecology (of the area) is destroyed and thus the communities’ socio-economic order is irreversibly altered. We need to foster these communities in their own habitats and culture and support them with access the outside world so they can sell the products they produce.”

Participants at the conference said if East Kalimantan is serious about seeking out “green growth” investments, many policies and regulations will need to be changed or strengthened.

They include:

  • Simplifying and synchronising the land concession permit process across central, provincial and district government levels
  • Enforcing a recently issued semi-moratorium by the Governor of East Kalimantan and carrying out environmental audits and site mapping to address overlapping licenses
  • Enforcing land reclamation requirements for mining companies
  • Increased application of renewable energy technologies, such as the conversion of waste from palm oil production – which amounts to as much as 4 million tonnes per year in East Kalimantan – to generate electricity
  • Securing communities’ free, prior and informed consent within commodity investment projects

This work forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry and was supported by USAID Regional Development Mission in Asia (RDMA), the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (CORDAID) and the Netherlands Development Cooperation.

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Topic(s) :   Deforestation