Papua – the province of logical choice

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Greg Poulgrain, Brisbane | Fri, 11/26/2010 9:16 AM | Opinion

The Jakarta Post

The Indonesian province to be the test-case for Norway’s 1 billion dollar environmental deal will be announced during the 16th UN Climate Change Conference starting on Nov. 29 at Cancun, Mexico.

The LoI (Letter-of-Intent) signed in Oslo last May requires an Indonesian province “with large intact tracts of rainforest” to stop deforestation for two years. This “REDD+ agreement” (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, with special reference to the indigenous population) could make Indonesia a world-leader in facing the threat of climate change.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared that “Indonesia with the help of international partners could reduce emissions by as much as 41 percent.” During the last decade, the rate of deforestation in Indonesia has been the highest in the world, and currently is two million hectares annually, placing Indonesia along with the US and China as the top three for emission of carbon dioxide. Even more alarming, a former minister of environment, Nabiel Makarim, declared “75 percent of logging in Indonesia is illegal”, now mostly from Papua.

For the optimum in climate change reduction, naming Papua as the pilot province is far better than, for example, Jambi’s 100,000 hectares of forest, as Papua’s forest area is 300 times larger. Papua has not yet been deforested as have provinces in Kalimantan and Sumatra which, in total, has lost 30 percent of its forest for palm oil and 24 percent for industrial pulpwood plantations.

Lars Løvold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, told the Norwegian government: “Unless Papua is targeted as one of the first provinces to implement REDD, it is highly likely that much of this forest will disappear before a national REDD structure is in place.”

 

Ecologically, Papua is the preferred province. Its forest is one of the world’s largest, so bio-diverse that more than half of all Indonesia’s native species are found there. Yet illegal logging continues; according to a reputable 2005 report, strongly implicating the Indonesian army, Papua was losing 300,000-cubic meters of logs every month.

Norway wants a legally-binding agreement so if all deforestation in the pilot province does not stop, Indonesia is legally accountable. President Yudhoyono’s delay in fully implementing reform dealing with army business interests may preclude Papua as the pilot province.

The LoI states “the first province-wide pilot will be implemented from January 2011”, and requires Indonesia to establish “a degraded lands database [to start] economic activity on such lands.”

Indonesia may apply this clause to degraded land in Papua while excluding it as the pilot province. If so, the UN climate-change conference will not be oblivious to Indonesia’s reasons for going beyond the province of logical choice.

Degraded lands are already being prepared in southern Papua — 480,000 hectares known as the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). Large tracts recently deforested will qualify as “degraded land”. MIFEE is similar to a project by president Soeharto in 1997 in Central Kalimantan, where 82,000 local people were displaced. The area became a 1 million hectare ecological disaster.

The LoI focuses on the indigenous population requires Indonesia to “take appropriate measures to address land tenure conflicts and compensation claims”. From past experience, Papuan spokesperson Septer Manufandu, forecast that “MIFEE will marginalize Papuans in their own land.”

In the first MIFEE plan, 90 percent was primary or natural forest, land so flat that the incoming tide brings salt water upriver more than 120 kilometers. Soil quality is a problem — unlike Java where the soil is rich and deep. After two seasons of (proposed) agricultural production, vast quantities of fertilizer will be needed. The cost of maintaining a profitable level of productivity highlights the benefits of keeping the forest intact now and reducing climate change.

Because pulpwood and palm oil companies see their future in Papua’s vast tracts of forest, it does not augur well for Papua to be named the pilot province. In July 2010, Tempo magazine reported the death of an Indonesian journalist who had written articles on illegal logging by military officers in the MIFEE area.

The predicted output for palm-oil in the MIFEE area is 937,000 tons per year, which (even at 2010 prices) anticipates a return of more than US$1 billion. Indonesia is already the world’s largest palm-oil producer but the three million hectares that concession holders want in the next decade will only exacerbate climate change.

Papua has replaced Sumatra and Kalimantan as the focus of deforestation.

With the UN addressing climate change as one of the “greatest challenges facing the world today”, illegal logging in Papua is a global issue. The carbon-emission argument driving international support to stop deforestation — that trees are worth more if left standing, rather than rampant felling and selling — is more applicable to Papua than any other province in Indonesia.

Dr. Greg Poulgrain, Indonesian history specialist, is the author of Genesis of Konfrontasi. He teaches Indonesian history at University of Sunshine Coast, near Brisbane.

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