SBY and Indonesia’s forests: A legacy in the making?

The President of Indonesia speaks optimistically about the country's environmental prospects.

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Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono talks to CIFOR’s Director General Frances Seymour. Photo by Sade Bimantara

On September 27, it was my honor and privilege to introduce President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as keynote speaker of the CIFOR-sponsored conference “Forests Indonesia: Alternative futures to meet demands for food, fiber, fuel and REDD+” in Jakarta. And what a speech it was.

In it, the president took the opportunity to “re-affirm Indonesia’s pioneering role in harnessing forestry to the global effort to address climate change,” and dedicated the remainder of his presidency “to deliver enduring results that will sustain and enhance the environment and forests of Indonesia.” It is hard to imagine a more fitting way for a nation’s leader to commemorate the United Nation’s designation of 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

How did the president come to make this historic commitment, what are the benefits for Indonesia and the challenges ahead, and why should we be optimistic about the chances for success?

The world needs Indonesia’s cooperation on climate change, and specifically by reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Indonesia’s overall emissions are globally significant, and it is highly unlikely that the international community could reach the target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius without Indonesia playing a leading role.

Improved forest management is an essential part of the solution, as most of Indonesia’s current greenhouse gas (GHG) emis- sions are estimated to come from land use, land use change and forestry.

Indonesia’s emissions profile is especially affected by its extensive area of peatlands, which are rich in biodiversity – such as the charismatic orangutan – but also rich in carbon, due to the below-ground organic matter accumulated over the centuries that can be more than 10 meters deep. Once the hydrology of a peat swamp is disturbed, and that organic matter begins to decay or is oxidized through burning, emissions increase dramatically for years to come. Thus Indonesia’s unique ecology puts the country in a position to make or break global climate protection efforts.

Under Yudhoyono’s leadership, Indonesia has been active in the global policy arena on forests and climate change since it emerged on the international agenda five years ago. It was at the 13th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change hosted by Indonesia in 2007 that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, now known as REDD+, was included in the Bali Action Plan. Indonesia is now home to one of the largest numbers of REDD+ pilot projects, or “demonstration activities,” encouraged under that plan.

Four years ago, the Indonesian government convened the so-called “Forests-11” or F-11 group of forest-rich countries and since then has participated in South-South exchanges with countries including Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Representatives of the Ministry of Forestry contributed to the design of the World Bank’s Forest Investment Program, established to facilitate “transformational change” in forest policies and practices, in which Indonesia is now a pilot country. Indonesia also participates in REDD “readiness” programs supported by the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the UN REDD Program and several bilateral forests and climate change initiatives.

Most significantly, Yudhoyono used the occasion of the 2009 G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh to announce a commitment to reduce Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from business as usual by 2020 with domestic resources, and by 41 percent with international support.

His pledge was one of the earliest and most far-reaching voluntary commitments to reduce emissions by a developing country. Building on this commitment, Yudhoyono signed a Letter of Intent with the government of Norway in May 2010 that lays out a set of activities designed to realize reductions in forest-based emissions in return for financial support of up to $1 billion.

As Yudhoyono stressed in his speech on September 27, protecting Indonesia’s forests is not only in the global interest. Indonesian citizens also stand to gain from improved and sustainable forest management. “If it weren’t for the benefits that our forests provide,” he said at the conference, “then our way of life, our people, our economy, our environment and our society would be so much poorer.”

Indonesia is itself quite vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Coastal populations and low-lying agricultural areas are threatened by sea level rise and increasingly severe storms. Agricultural production is vulnerable to changing seasonal patterns, drought and pests. Infrastructure, such as roads vital for getting products to market, can be destroyed by the flooding and land- slides caused by more intensive rainfall events.

Researchers have identified how maintaining natural forest cover can help buffer the impacts of climate change. Mangroves attenuate the effects of storms and forested hillsides can reduce the incidence of land-slides. Intact forests are more resistant to the forest fires precipitated by dry seasons that are likely to be hotter, dryer and longer.

In his speech to conference participants, the president also alluded to the many other benefits for Indonesians arising from better forest management. He referred to the “biological gift” of Indonesia’s many unique species, which is “intertwined with the rich cultural diversity of Indonesia’s forest.” He mentioned the contribution of forests to fiber and energy supplies.

Importantly, the president recognized that the objective of food security is served by better forest management. Forests provide wild game, fruits, nuts, honey, grubs, tubers and other nutritious foods harvested directly by local communities. And while increased agricultural production is often placed in opposition to forest protection, in fact forests provide many environmental services to the agriculture sector – including pollination, hydrological control and climate regulation.

One benefit of better forest management not mentioned by the president is improved diplomatic relations within the region: the periodic haze caused by Indonesia’s forest and land fires has been a chronic irritant to relations with its neighbors.  Last year, in anticipation of Indonesia’s assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2011, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa articulated foreign policy objectives that included regional collaboration to contribute to solv- ing transnational problems such as climate change. There is no better opportunity than in the realm of improved forest policy and practice.

The president faces a plethora of challenges in meeting his commitments related to forests and climate change. In his speech, Yudhoyono mentioned some of the tough ones: illegal logging, forest encroachment, forest and land fires and peat-land drainage. Unfortunately, there are few “stroke of the pen” decisions to address these challenges that would automatically lead to reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Achieving those objectives will require filling gaps in the data about the current status of forest land use and current plans for land use change. The next steps will entail difficult negotiations over how best to adjust those plans to take emission reductions into account.

As described in the Draft National REDD+ Strategy recently released for public comment, success may also require changes in law and new regulations to harmonize approaches to low carbon development across sectors and jurisdictions, and painstaking institution-building necessary to ensure both horizontal and vertical coordination of decision-making. New mechanisms will have to be created to manage flows of information and revenues related to forest carbon in the context of REDD+.

It’s clear that the emission reduction targets cannot be met by conducting “business as usual.” For example, while the government’s tree-planting programs are certainly part of the solution, analysis by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) strongly suggests that tree planting alone cannot sequester enough carbon to make up for emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. To meet emission reduction targets, an area of plantations two- and-a-half times the size of Indonesia would be required.

Current trajectories of forest loss implied by continuing expansion of oil palm plantations into forest and peatland areas, increases in wood processing capacity driving demand in excess of sustainable supplies, and mining activities in undisturbed forests all need to be adjusted to be compatible with a low carbon development path.

Substantial areas of existing forests, both primary and secondary, will need to continue to be managed as forests, both protected and productive. Disturbance of peatlands in particular will need to be dramatically reduced. Unclear and uncertain land tenure is an issue that will have to be ad- dressed to provide a clear basis for incentivizing improved forest management. Sound stewardship of remaining forests and peatlands and restoration of those that have been degraded can only be expected from those with a secure claim to the future benefits of their actions.

Improved spatial planning is also essential. Directing development activities to already-degraded lands rather than to carbon-rich forests and peatlands is an obvious element of a low carbon growth strategy, but will likely require revision and swapping among current land use allocations.

The two-year moratorium on issuing new forest concessions imposed by the president last May provides an important instrument for beginning this process of adjustment. Although many stakeholders were disappointed with the scope of the moratorium and its many exclusions, it nevertheless opens the door to a new era of forest land use planning.

In his speech, Yudhoyono stated that the moratorium and other steps “are not goals in themselves,” but rather “measures that give us time and resources to review and revise land use policy and practice.” The presidential instruction announcing the moratorium was accompanied by an Indicative Moratorium Map made public for comment, and a commitment to revise this map every six months during the two-year period. Such a process of stakeholder engagement will be crucial to ensure that the transition to a lower-emission development path is done in a way that is transparent and fair.

The good news is that despite the daunting challenges, the president has many allies across the public and private sectors, domestic and international, in fulfilling the pledges reiterated in his September 27 speech. Perhaps most importantly, local communities across the archipelago are a strong constituency for improved forest management; many already engage in protecting forests from fire and illegal logging without any compensation or secure tenure over the resources they are stewarding.

The “Forests Indonesia” conference provided a platform for many other stakeholders to voice their support for the agenda outlined by Yudhoyono, and also to share their perspectives on how to overcome the obstacles. The president recalled that in a previous speech delivered at the “Business for Environment” conference in April in Jakarta, he had challenged the private sector to be more innovative in balancing economic gain with environmental sustainability.

At the “Forests Indonesia” conference, business leaders from traditional sectors expressed interest in shifting to more sustainable business models but called for more regulatory certainty, a “level playing field” that rewards good practice and removal of current barriers that impede development of degraded land. Shinta Kamdani, a representative of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin), offered the active involvement of the private sector in developing a workable framework for REDD+.

In his speech, the president referred to the “opportunity to develop a new sector in our economy – through ecosystem restoration for carbon sequestration and emission reduction.” Later in the day, the president’s words were reinforced by Andrew Steer, the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change. In his speech, Steer predicted a robust market for forest carbon in the future, and outlined steps Indonesia could take to capture its share. Entrepreneurs eager to take advantage of new markets for forest carbon voiced their eagerness for a supportive regu- latory environment and improved land allocation processes to seize this opportunity.

Officials from across various government ministries contributed to conference discussions on how to intensify agricultural production on land already under cultivation, how to shift plantation establishment to degraded lands, and how to take advantage of new markets for legally and sustainably produced timber. Agus Purnomo, on behalf of the REDD+ Task Force, called for compilation of a practical to-do list of “winnable fights” to move the agenda forward. In his closing speech, Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan asserted that Indonesia’s food, fiber and bioenergy needs must be sourced from plantation forests, not natural forests, and outlined the many ways that the forestry sector is contributing to national development in ways that are pro-poor, pro-jobs, pro-growth and pro-environment.

Representatives of civil society challenged government officials to resolve long- standing tenure disputes and improve spatial planning. A recurrent theme across many of the speakers was the need to work together across stakeholder groups. Neither government nor business nor non-governmental organizations have the combination of authority, legitimacy, resources and knowledge to go it alone. The innovative partnership between producer Golden Agri Resources and The Forest Trust to protect carbon-rich forests from conversion to oil palm was mentioned as an example of how such collaboration can work.

From the podium and from the floor, participants in the “Forests Indonesia” conference from other countries including Norway, the United Kingdom and Brazil, pledged their support for the president’s agenda on forests and climate change. The international community is eager to be helpful in ways that do not infringe on Indonesia’s sovereignty.

Norwegian Minister of Environment Eric Solheim observed during the Oslo REDD Exchange last June that Norwegian citizens would be outraged if a group of Indonesians showed up to tell them how to manage their oil and gas industry, so his government’s engagement is not an attempt to tell Indonesian citizens what to do with their forests. As he put it in September, “We are here to support, not to lead.”

The international community is a stake- holder in Indonesia’s decisions. As Steer of the World Bank put it, “The world is watching Indonesia with extraordinary admiration … (and) is also sitting on the edge of its seat.” Indeed, it would be unfair to ask Indonesia to take on these commitments alone, given that international trade and investment are important drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. The president encouraged the Indonesian business community to “forge greater cooperation with international partners,” and noted that “global funding is necessary” to meet REDD+ targets.

While funding for new initiatives is certainly necessary, it is not sufficient. Interestingly, when given the opportunity to select and vote on the most urgent and important action that could be taken by the international community to enable Indonesia to address challenges facing the design and implementation of REDD+, the answer garnering the most votes from conference participants was, “Cooperate to close markets and limit finance for illegally and unsustainably produced commodities that compete with REDD+ for forest land.”

Toward this objective, in May of this year, the Indonesian government and the European Union (EU) announced a bilateral “Voluntary Partnership Agreement” to ensure that only timber certified as legal is exported to the EU.

With climate negotiations again heating up in the run-up to the UN climate change talks in December in Durban, South Africa and beyond, Indonesia has a chance to make history by providing a model at home and leadership abroad by demonstrating the transition to a low car- bon economy and pressing the international community to keep up its end of the bargain. The president’s personal commitment to this agenda will no doubt be a key determinant of success.

I have been following forest policy in Indonesia for 25 years and have never seen such high-level attention to the issues or felt such a convergence of energy toward positive change.

In his speech, the president spoke of his personal commitment to saving the forests for his granddaughter Almira, telling the audience, “I am also sure that you would like these forests to become our precious legacy for our children.” If Yudhoyono is successful in delivering on his commitments related to forests and climate change, it will also be the legacy of his presidency, to Indonesia and the world.

This article first appeared in the November-December edition of Strategic Review, an Indonesian journal of leadership, policy and world affairs.

CIFOR will have a team of experienced writers covering the climate change negotiations and events of COP17 to be held in Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9. Follow stories related to forests, REDD+, food security and climate change on CIFOR’s Forests Blog and @CIFOR_forests on twitter. Get involved in Forest Day 5, the biggest global platform on forestry and climate change, by tracking the hashtag #FD5 on twitter

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Community forestry Rights