The ABCs of REDD+: On Building a New Forestry Model That Works for Indonesia

An interesting article from early January 2012 on REDD in Indonesia

JakartaGlobe, Maxine Carr | January 04, 2012


It has been joked that anyone who claims to understand REDD+ must, in fact, be under-informed on the meaning of this complicated and highly discussed acronym. Behind the scenes, plans to decide how to implement a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme in Indonesia are still a work in progress. Today the initiative is much more of a concept than an actionable policy, and there are a number of barriers that must be overcome to ensure that the benefits of REDD+ materialize in Indonesia.

First, how can we best explain REDD+? The initiative is a mechanism that urges wealthy countries to financially compensate developing countries that avoid deforestation and forest degradation. The plus sign denotes the further additions of forest conservation, sustainable forest management and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks, all of which may also financially reward countries already working on protecting their forests.

In 2009, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a target to reduce Indonesia’s carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2020. Indonesia has since been championed as a leader in promoting the global need to make progress on mitigating climate change. Not only is deforestation the country’s biggest contributor to carbon emissions, but Indonesia is also the world’s largest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter from deforestation and land use conversion. Thus, plans to support a reduction in the felling of forested areas are vital to meeting the president’s goal.

Here the REDD+ initiative arises as the most prominent method to reduce deforestation while benefitting participating countries. After signing a $1 billion memorandum of understanding with the Norwegian government, and with support from the United Nations, an official REDD+ pilot scheme was launched in November in Central Kalimantan. REDD+ promises to generate large financial revenues for Indonesia: With a 5 percent reduction in emissions per annum, an estimated $765 million could be made. A reduction of 30 percent could reach up to $4.5 billion per annum. Of course, such large influxes of money require effective institutional management and governance.

The current situation of allowing contradictory forest management policies to coexist could stall progress on REDD+ and contribute to mismanaged forests in Indonesia. In 2011, important policies on forestry were passed, but they represent only a small step on the long road to effective forest management.

The moratorium on forestry, in effect since May, has helped to push REDD+ onto the national agenda. However, this policy has caused controversy stemming from the fact that the ban covers only primary forests and peatlands, not the 20 million hectares of secondary forests that are left exposed to legal and illegal logging. It has also been claimed that the moratorium will only extend protection to a further 14 percent of primary forests.

A second presidential decree also issued in May last year allowed conditional underground mining in protected forest areas. This policy and industry pressures could cloud the definition of “vital” mining activities and allow destructive mining activities to take place. If the government is serious about its commitment to achieving a 26 percent reduction in carbon emissions, it needs to seriously consider strategies to avoid deforestation of secondary as well as primary forests and peatlands.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that unreliable data informs government decisions. According to recent government data, the moratorium would cover 64.2 million hectares of primary forests and 24.5 million hectares of peatland. These figures appear to contradict earlier figures released by the government. In February 2010, the forestry minister himself stated that the remaining amount of primary forest in Indonesia was 43 million hectares.

The mapping of Indonesia’s forests is inadequate, and the current basis for land-use concessions in spatial planning is based on data collated during the 1980s, which wrongly classified much of Indonesia’s forests. Until the mapping of forest areas is finalized, loopholes can be exploited by local governments. Some administrations seeking to finance themselves are now able to argue that “wrongly classed” forest land should be converted and cleared into money-generating palm oil plantations. In Papua, 400,000 hectares of land have already been reclassified and concessions are currently being issued to make way for more plantations.

Future government policies on forest management, based on better collection of forest data, will need to be streamlined with REDD+ in order to create cohesive policy. It is the government that has the responsibility for proper forestry management through effective policy. It is also the government’s duty to disseminate the idea and details of REDD+ down to the local level.

Indeed, the initiative is much more likely to be successful if the interests of forest communities and indigenous people can be secured. On the ground, NGOs such as CARE International have been making progress using the Free, Prior and Informed Consent approach in discussing the roles and rights of indigenous people. It is estimated that there are between 50 to 70 million indigenous people across the archipelago, many of whom depend on the forests for their livelihoods. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was ratified by 144 nations in 2007, indicating that securing the rights of indigenous people has come a long way.

Involving indigenous people is key, especially in Papua, where 97 percent of land is held under customary ownership by kinship groups, not the state. REDD+ payments also add new value to forests, so there is a risk that government officials, private companies and local elites could be tempted to take the forests away from local communities unless their awareness and involvement and is increased and their property and tenure rights are secured. Moreover, REDD+ needs to enable the establishment of a system that can curb deforestation while also alleviating poverty wherever possible.

Illegal logging is also a barrier to the full realization of REDD+ in Indonesia. The issue became a prominent one with the rise of the pulp and paper industry in the 1980s. The national government is wary of illegal logging, in part because of the loss of tax revenues that would be obtained if the same timber were harvested legally and in part because losses to the ecosystem will continue to occur unless the government monitors and brings illegal logging under control.

There is a need to strategically control which regions can be harvested, since water catchment areas and carbon storage functions need to be protected. Progress has already been made with the recent establishment of the timber trade agreement known as the Voluntary Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Indonesia, in which the EU will cooperate with Indonesia on prohibiting imports on timber believed to have been illegally sourced. REDD+ will have to go further with overall monitoring of logging to better assess illegal activities. Heavier court sanctions must also be meted out to transgressors.

Although still in its infancy, successful implementation of REDD+ in Indonesia promises benefits if such barriers can be overcome. If they can, the initiative presents Indonesia with a golden opportunity to lead global efforts to mitigate climate change.

Maxine Carr is a research officer at Strategic Asia Indonesia, a consultancy promoting cooperation among Asian countries. She can be reached at


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