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It’s the familiar story of Indonesian environmental issues: the battle between economic development reliant on natural resource extraction and fears about sustainable use of those resources.

This decades long tussle is full of contradictions and tensions.

“Indonesia is between a rock and a hard place,” says Krystof Obidzinski, senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

“On the one hand, it is trying to improve sustainability through a moratorium on the clearing of primary forest and peatland, the development of a timber legality verification system and other measures. On the other, it is promoting economic growth and job creation, largely through the extraction and export of natural resources.”

To balance these competing concerns, Indonesia has embraced the concept of ‘green development’ – increasing investment in ecosystem services sustainability so that the environment can be part of job creation, poverty alleviation and high economic growth.


The district of Berau in East Kalimantan is piloting green development initiatives and is the subject of a new study from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) .

Berau is a forest frontier – 75 percent of its 2.2 million hectares is still covered by primary and secondary forest, while in neighboring, more accessible districts such as Kutai Kartanegara, most of the forests have already been cleared.

Berau’s primary lowland forest may contain between 133-145 million tonnes of carbon, while its secondary forest may store another 127-208 million tonnes.

The lowlands are home to one of the world’s largest orangutan populations, as well as gibbons, leaf and proboscis monkeys, sun bears and over 80 threatened tree species.

Berau is also rich mineral resources; there is great economic potential in extracting and exploiting both the forest and minerals.

Berau is considered a front-runner district with its commitment to sustainable development, and a long history of interventions dating back to the early 1990s

Krystof Obidzinski

The governments of Berau and East Kalimantan have pledged that green development will be part of its REDD+ pilot programs, and therefore, contribute to Indonesia’s national commitment of a 26% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2020.

“Berau is considered a front-runner district with its commitment to sustainable development, and a long history of interventions dating back to the early 1990s. All these initiatives are pieces of green development,” says Obidzinski.

“We decided to look at what’s been achieved and also, what future challenges there are in Berau so that other areas can learn from them.”

Despite Berau’s ambitious conservation plans, the study found that the pendulum is swinging toward economic development.

In twelve years from 2000, more than 201,000 hectares of forest was lost to legal and illegal logging, oil palm and timber plantations, coal mining and human settlement. In the same period, the annual deforestation rate jumped from 12,833 ha to 20,760 ha.

Consequently, 81-185 million tonnes of CO2 was released into the atmosphere.

Nearly three quarters of the deforestation took place in areas known as areal penggunaan lain – or APL land – a category created in 2001 to denote forested land falling outside the forest estate and intended for conversion.

The 30 percent of Indonesian forests classified as APL land lie outside the jurisdiction of the national Ministry of Forestry and generally are under the control of the district in which it is situated. (For example: the Ministry of Forestry will issue timber clearing permits – (Izin Pemanfaatan Kayu, or IPK) for oil palm companies within the forest estate, but district government officials can issue the permits within the Berau local APL land category).

More than one million hectares in Berau has already been allocated to 23 logging concessions; 281,000 ha has been allocated to seven industrial plantations and more than 193,000 ha has been earmarked for seven mining companies.

All told, 80 percent of Berau’s land area has been divvied up for oil palm, industrial timber, mining and logging.

The latest draft spatial plan indicates that almost 630,000 hectares will fall into the APL category, and therefore be cleared and developed. If primary and secondary forests in APL land were re-categorized as protected or conservation forest, the study found that there is a potential saving of between 149.9–267.9 million tonnes of CO2, which could be supported by the East Kalimantan Province Regulation on forest and biodiversity protection.

And by extending the moratorium on allocation of permits and clearing of that forest, much more land could be protected, is one of the major recommendations of the research.

Yet, Krystof Obidzinki points out that the moratorium isn’t an iron-clad guarantee.

Over 15,000 ha of the primary forest supposedly protected under the moratorium has been awarded to logging, oil palm, industrial timber and mining companies.

“If this primary forest is located within an APL zone, it can be logged or cleared by these companies,” says Obidzinski. “That is a serious problem and a lot more can and should be done.”


 The Berau Forest Carbon Program is currently supporting a REDD+ pilot project, which seeks to improve forest management and protection, as well as improving the management of oil palm plantations and mangrove areas.

Part of that process involves identifying already degraded land for oil palm developments and promoting land swaps.

The crux of the matter is not ‘what’ but ‘how’ — how to develop oil palm on degraded land, how to protect primary forest from APL land and compensate companies for their loss, and so on

Krystof Obidzinski

The study indicates that “current economic development plans need to be better reconciled with Indonesia’s ‘green’ policies that have been designed to reduce deforestation and (greenhouse gas) emissions.

More emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that carbon rich forests and peatlands are protected, plantation developments are directed onto unoccupied degraded land, logging is managed sustainably and coal mining is conducted according to environmental standards.

“These are not groundbreaking or surprising recommendations,” says Obidzinksi.

“They explain what we think needs to be done. The next step is to break these general recommendations down into concrete actions. The crux of the matter is not ‘what’ but ‘how’ — how to develop oil palm on degraded land, how to protect primary forest from APL land and compensate companies for their loss, and so on.”

For the authors, getting to ‘how’ requires digging deep into the technical, financial and legal issues, which in turn demands different levels of partnership.

“CIFOR is a research organization, but increasingly we want to see concrete outcomes,” says Obidzinski. “We don’t need to do it all ourselves. Rather, we can work with specialized partners, whether other institutions or private firms, as well as government and maybe nongovernmental organizations.”

“Berau has pledged to promote ‘green development’ but strong political will is required to rectify poor spatial planning and the ad hoc allocation of concessions to large-scale HTI, oil palm, logging and mining companies” the study authors write.

With respect to developing options for degraded land, for example, CIFOR is collaborating with World Resources Institute, which has expertise in the area. On other issues, such as the allocation of forest in the APL category, CIFOR is taking the lead to unravel the legal conflicts.

“It’s early days still,” says Obidzinksi, “but it’s a beginning.”

For further information about CIFOR’s work in East Kalimantan, contact Krystof Obidzinski at

Financial support for this working paper was provided by USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia and the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA)

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Topic(s) :   Deforestation REDD+ Community forestry Rights