For the second year running, Indonesia has the dubious honour of entering the Guiness Book of Records as the country with the highest rate of deforestation. According to the 2009 Guinness World Records, Indonesia’s deforestation rate was 1.8 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005. This amounts to a loss of 2 percent of its forests each year.
Indonesia’s State Minister for the Environment, Rachmat Witoelar, labeled the report “slanderous”, claiming it used obsolete data on Indonesia’s forests. The Guiness World Records used data from Greenpeace, among others. According to the Indonesian Forestry Ministry, the rate of deforestation was 1.8 million hectares a year between 1987 and 1997. It increased to 2.8 million hectares to 2000, and between 2000 and 2006 the rate was 1.08 million hectares a year.
This is a serious problem for REDD. Whose figures on the rate of deforestation are we to believe? If Indonesia is to get paid for reducing its rate of deforestation, establishing the actual rate of deforestation is going to be crucial. But it seems that task may not be as straightforward as it appears.
Towards the end of September, the UN and Norway launched a REDD programme. In their press release, they wrote: “Indonesia has the potential to be compensated $1 billion a year if its deforestation rate was reduced to one million hectares annually.” If, as the Indonesian government claims, the current rate of deforestation is 1.08 million hectares a year, this would amount to business as usual, more or less.
If we are to rely on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s definition of forests to establish the rate of deforestation, the world’s forests are in real trouble. Using FAO’s definition of forest, industrial tree plantations, highly degraded forests and even clearcuts (which according to the FAO are temporarily unstocked forests) are all counted as forests. The UNFCCC is currently using the FAO’s definition of forests.