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Interview with Elfian Effendi, Greenomics Indonesia: “The emissions-reduction strategy being eyed by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is focused on planting rather than a moratorium”

Interview with Elfian Effendi, Greenomics Indonesia

Interview with Elfian Effendi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia, January 2011, Jakarta, by email.

REDD-Monitor: Please explain what your organisation Greenomics Indonesia does, what it mainly focuses on and your position on REDD in general.

Elfian Effendi: Greenomics Indonesia is an Indonesian NGO that closely monitors policy and legal changes in the forestry, mining, oil palm plantation and spatial planning sectors. Greenomics Indonesia conducts policy research for the purpose of responding rapidly to policy and legal changes in these sectors through the use of media advocacy. The choice of media advocacy is intended to provide the widest possible opportunity to publicise irregularities in the forestry sector and to afford as much room as possible for the public to express views and provide input in the hope that this will bring pressure to bear on regulators and decision-makers so as to ensure greater attention and care when making changes. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the frustration level continues to be high as our work is constantly confronted by resistance and the myriad vested interests that operate behind the scenes to influence the policies and regulations that are adopted.

As regards REDD, Greenomics Indonesia is currently still assessing the Indonesian Government’s level of consistency in formulating policies and regulations, and in implementing REDD+. While Greenomics Indonesia supports all initiatives designed to reduce the levels of deforestation and forest degradation, it is principally concerned with the extent to which such initiatives are capable of exerting leverage at the operational level, rather than the conceptual or abstract level, so as to ensure that unrealisable expectations are not created.

For example, the Indonesian Government has set an emissions-reduction target of between 26 and 41 percent by 2020, while simultaneously doing all in its power to achieve annual economic growth of 7 percent. The concept proposed by the Indonesian Government for achieving both targets lacks clarity, yardsticks and indicators. Greenomics Indonesia will continue to monitor the government’s actions and approach in this regard.

REDD-Monitor: Before we talk about REDD in Indonesia, what is your view about the REDD+ agreement that came out of Cancun?

Elfian Effendi: The REDD+ Agreement signed in Cancun has the potential to serve as a powerful motivator for Indonesia to reduce emissions, and deforestation and forest degradation, and to simultaneously serve as a source of funding. However, it will nevertheless be difficult for Indonesia to avail of this opportunity as it will find itself constrained by very tight measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) rules.

The Indonesian Ministry of Forestry very rarely conducts verification in the field. Of all the data submitted by companies, only a tiny proportion is actually verified, with the accuracy of the remainder depending on the companies. Thus, it came as no surprise when an audit by the Indonesian State Audit Board (BPK) revealed many instances of manipulation in the forestry sector, including manipulation of timber volumes reported by companies with selective logging concessions (HPH) and industrial timber plantation concessions (HTI).

Another example concerns data on the depth of peat cover. According to Indonesian forestry legislation, land with a peat cover of more than 3 metres in depth cannot be exploited. However, when a forestry plantation company reports that peat cover in its concession is “only” 2.9 metres in depth, there is nothing the Ministry of Forestry can do except give its approval. As a consequence, the conversion of land with a peat cover of more than 3 metres to plantation forestry becomes unavoidable as the Ministry of Forestry has given its approval. The Ministry of Forestry itself possesses no officially verified data on the depth of peat cover in wetlands around the country.

Thus, we may conclude that the field verification instruments for forest exploitation plans or post-exploitation actions in Indonesia are very weak.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that the emissions-reduction strategy being eyed by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry is focused on planting rather than a moratorium on the conversion of natural forest and peatland.

Despite a more realistic Cancun agreement, Indonesia will continue to find itself in the position of “wanting to hug the mountain but being unable to reach it” if the fundamental problems afflicting the Indonesian forestry sector are not addressed, particularly the issues of spatial planning and data accuracy. This means that if REDD+ is implemented in Indonesia under the current conditions of “business as usual,” it will only give rise to leakages.

REDD-Monitor: What is your position on carbon trading?

Elfian Effendi: Carbon trading has received a lot of publicity in Indonesia and given rise to a lot of expectations – although it must be said that these expectations for the most part are nothing more than that. Most of the focus has been placed on the business potential of carbon trading, rather than the essence of the concept. Those involved in the sector have tended to portray it as a source of easy money, as a result of which Indonesia has been warned about the mushrooming of unauthorised carbon-trading brokers and middlemen in those provinces whose forests are in relatively good shape.

Greenomics Indonesia sees carbon-trading as the concrete emergence of a new market that was previously only talked about, and needs to be appreciated as a market instrument. As a market instrument capable of supporting the financing of sustainable forestry, there is no reason to oppose it. However, we must never lose sight of the essence of the concept.

Carbon-trading must be capable of truly benefiting forestry and peatland stakeholders, particularly those living in and around such areas. Carbon-trading must involve communities and their institutions to the greatest extent possible as part of a benefit-sharing process. Indeed, benefit sharing must be the principal benchmark. Carbon-trading must promote the welfare of communities living in and around Indonesia’s forests and peatlands, and higher economic productivity in such communities.

Greenomics Indonesia is strongly opposed to those who view carbon-trading as nothing more than a business opportunity, reflecting the pervasive “business as usual” approach in Indonesia. Carbon-trading must be focused primarily on saving Indonesia’s forests and peatland, and improving the welfare and well-being of those living in and around such areas.

REDD-Monitor: In May 2010, Indonesia and Norway signed a Letter of Intent for the biggest of the various REDD schemes in Indonesia. At the time, some NGOs seemed cautiously optimistic about this, whereas others were skeptical. What is Greenomics Indonesia’s reaction to the LoI?

Elfian Effendi: The preparations for the implementation of the Letter of Intent between Indonesia and Norway may be viewed as a benchmark for the overall preparedness of the Indonesian government. Various delays have already occurred, and various excuses put forward. For example, the failure to issue a Presidential Instruction on a moratorium on the issuance of licenses for the conversion of natural forest and peatland has been blamed on intensive lobbying by the forestry industry, oil-palm plantation industry, and the mining industry. This reason does not make sense and appears to be an attempt to find a black sheep to pin the blame on.

At the outset, the Indonesian government appeared very self-confident over the LoI. Lately, however, it appears to have been beset by doubts and a general lack of self-confidence.

Greenomics Indonesia believes that there are many aspects of the LoI that still need to be clarified. Greenomics Indonesia’s position is that it will continue to monitor the preparations for, and implementation of, the LoI. Greenomics Indonesia wants to ensure which direction the LoI’s implementation takes in practice. Although there are already a number of indications as to the likely direction, we still need to ascertain where it finally lands.

One aspect that is being closely monitored by Greenomics Indonesia is how Indonesia develops the “green economy” program, as envisaged in the draft REDD+ National Strategy. Greenomics Indonesia is concerned that the green economy, or low-carbon economy, will have to be paid for by loan financing. Accordingly, Greenomics Indonesia is keeping very close tabs on this aspect. We may rest assured that it will be very difficult to expect the Indonesian national budget to finance the green or low-carbon economy program as it is already under pressure in repaying interest and principal on foreign loans, financing subsidies and paying for routine government programs.

REDD-Monitor: The two-year logging moratorium, which is an important part of the Indonesia-Norway REDD deal, is currently delayed until President Yudhoyono signs a decree to bring the moratorium into force. The draft decree produced by the Ministry of Forestry would only apply to “primary forests” and forests on peat more than three metres deep. How do you think this confusion over the various decrees came about and why were the draft decrees only produced at the last possible moment?

Elfian Effendi: The emergence of various drafts of the Presidential Instruction on the conversion moratorium reflects lack of leadership as regards the preparations and implementation of the RI-Norway LoI. Greenomics Indonesia recently issued a press statement declaring that if the Presidential Instruction on the moratorium failed to have regard to higher instruments in Indonesia’s legal hierarchy, such as the Indonesian Constitution, acts of parliament and government regulations, a third party would seek a judicial review of the Presidential Instruction. It is not acceptable for the substance of the Presidential Instruction to be formulated on a whim or ad hoc basis. Rather it must be compatible with the existing legal framework. If not, then it could be overturned through a judicial review.

Greenomics Indonesia believes that the government will need to amend a number of acts of parliament in order to ensure that REDD+ can be properly and effectively implemented in Indonesia. These laws include the National Spatial Plan Act, the Forestry Act and the Plantation Agriculture Act.

As an example, at the time when the different versions of the Presidential Instruction on the moratorium were emerging, the Ministry of Forestry was still accepting and discussing the revision of provincial spatial plans. Only recently, Maluku Province put forward a plan for the rezoning as non-forest land of 1.3 million hectares of existing forest land.

Greenomics Indonesia data shows that proposals are under discussion for the rezoning as non-forest land of 7 million hectares of existing forest land in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Greenomics Indonesia believes that the rezoning process is the No. 1 cause of deforestation at present.

The Presidential Instruction on the moratorium must provide convincing guarantees that tight monitoring will be exercised over the rezoning process in those provinces whose forests are still in relatively good condition.

REDD-Monitor: Last week, Greenomics Indonesia revealed that one day before the logging moratorium was due to start, the Ministry of Forestry awarded almost 3 million hectares of plantation concessions to 44 firms. Is this business as usual, or a last-minute attempt to accelerate the rate of conversion from forests to industrial plantations, before REDD takes effect?

Elfian Effendi: Minister of Forestry Regulation No. 50 of 2010, which was signed by the Minister of Forestry one day before the implementation of the moratorium plan, allows 44 companies to continue the licensing process for industrial forestry plantations as it specifically exempts them from the Presidential Instruction on the moratorium that is due to be issued. This has placed a serious question mark over the entire project.

In reality, the Minister of Forestry should have told those companies who are in the process of obtaining licenses or wish to obtain licenses to await the issuance of the Presidential Instruction, with all being equally subject to the moratorium’s rules. What happened clearly reveals that the Minister of Forestry continues to have a “business as usual” attitude. His decision to exempt the 44 companies at the last minute means that 2.9 million hectares are excluded from the moratorium.

President Yudhoyono should instruct the Minister of Forestry to rescind the said regulation.

REDD-Monitor: The Indonesia-Norway pilot province is Central Kalimantan and UN-REDD chose Central Sulawesi. Do you know why the various REDD schemes seem to be avoiding Papua – the province with the largest area of threatened forest?

Elfian Effendi: It has been agreed that Central Kalimantan will serve as a pilot province for the implementation of the RI-Norway LoI. The first priority in this regard must be resolving the problems that have arisen from spatial planing in Central Kalimantan. According to the BPK audit referred to above, oil palm plantation companies are operating illegally on an area covering millions of hectares in the forest zones in the province – something that constitutes a crime under Indonesian forestry law. The BPK recommended that the Minister of Forestry revoke the licenses of these companies. However, to date this recommendation has yet to be acted on by the minister, despite the fact that the said recommendation was designed to prevent the discussion of Indonesian forests and environmental degradation.
However, Minister of Forestry Zulkifli Hasan described what was happening as nothing more than “overspill”.

Given that the pilot province for the RI-Norway LoI is Central Kalimantan, and the pilot province for the UN-REDD project is Central Sulawesi, and that Papua was not selected for any of the projects, Greenomics Indonesia suspects that the government plans to proceed with “business as usual” in Papua.

REDD-Monitor: Do you see any hope that REDD can actually address deforestation in Indonesia? If so, what do you think would have to change in order to make REDD an effective tool?

Elfian Effendi: Any discussion of REDD in Indonesia must have regard to the lack of accurate, time-series based data. For example, in the draft REDD+ National Strategy (18 November 2010 version), it is stated that an estimated 50 million cubic metres of timber are illegally logged every year, and that if the average rate of illegal logging is 20 cubic metres per hectare, the total area in which illegal logging takes place could extend to 2.5 million hectares per annum. No sources are quoted in support of these statements.

If we accept this data, it means that in the 6 years since Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became president, some 300 million cubic metres of timber have been illegally logged on an area covering 15 million hectares – an area that is 230 times the size of Singapore. This is based on the Indonesian government’s own estimates.

However, these stand in marked contrast to a statement made by Rahmat Witoelar, the Indonesian President’s special envoy on climate change, who in mid July 2010 in London claimed that the rate of illegal logging in Indonesia had been reduced by 75 percent. How can the public be expected to adopt a constructive stance or position if all these are all they have to go on?

While REDD+ may lead to a reduction in the rate of deforestation in Indonesia, the scale of that reduction will be insignificant. The Indonesian government will argue that the reduction in emissions from Indonesia should be offset by an increase in planting through the development of industrial forestry plantations, community/smallholder forestry plantations, the “One Billion Trees” planting campaign, and the forest rehabilitation program. This would mean that the government’s target of reducing emissions by between 26 and 41 percent could well be achieved by 2010 – as a result of the issuance of emissions offsets (reducing emissions through increased planting). This is in line with the Ministry of Forestry’s 2010-2014 Strategic Plan, which makes no mention of a moratorium on conversion or logging. Thus, priority is to be given to reducing emissions through increased planting.

This implies that there is little hope of significantly reducing the rate of deforestation in Indonesia through the REDD+ program. Greenomics Indonesia believes that if the REDD+ program is to be effective in reducing deforestation, its concept will need to be based on solid policy and field preparations, and the introduction of responsive financial compensatory mechanisms.

Greenomics Indonesia believes that the inadequacy of REDD+ will quickly become apparent, with the result that it will be difficult to “move” at the operational level in the field. As a consequence, it will become increasingly difficult to reduce the rate of deforestation in the field through the REDD+ program.

REDD-Monitor: Do you have anything else to add relating to REDD in Indonesia?

Elfian Effendi: When Kuntoro Mangkusubroto [now head of the REDD-plus task force] headed the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (BRR), the Aceh Provincial government introduced a logging moratorium in 2007 – at a time when reconstruction work in Aceh was at its height as rebuilding deadlines approached. As a consequence of the moratorium, housing and public infrastructure projects were hit by a lack of timber supplies. This led to illegal logging in Aceh’s natural forests in order to supply to seemingly insatiable demand for timber arising from the multi-billion dollar reconstruction projects being implemented by the BRR and international agencies.

A Greenomics Indonesia survey at the time revealed that at least 100 illegal timber suppliers were operating in broad daylight on sidewalks in the towns, while another 50 were operating inside the forests. Greenomics Indonesia believes that the RI-Norway LoI should have had regard to the consequences of the logging moratorium in Aceh. We had also initially thought that Aceh Province would have been selected as the pilot province for the RI-Norway LoI, but that was not to be the case. Similarly, the UN-REDD program also failed to select Aceh for its first pilot project.

This is despite the fact that Aceh was the first province to ever declare a logging moratorium. Are they afraid that the use of illegal timber by international organisations operating in Aceh during the reconstruction phase will become public knowledge? That is a crucial question for Greenomics Indonesia.

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  1. Governor of Papua and West Papua since 2008 in various international and national events have statement to supporting a moratorium on logging to support international initiatives about REDD, but this claim has never been realized, and forest destruction continues to occur and marginalized communities. In Manokwari, West Papua, the company Medco Group continues to displace the forest area for palm oil plantation in Sidei and Prafi District; In Merauke, Papua, the company Medco Group continues to displace the forest area for industrial tree plantations in Animha and Kurik District, and the government is planning mega projects 1.2 million hectares of land in Merauke to MIFEE (Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate.) Similarly, in Aceh, the Governor has issued an instruction Number 5/2007 on a moratorium logging. In reality, oil palm plantations and mining companies can freely explore the natural forests and people forest.
    In my opinion, the government and its policies are not consistent to realize the idea of a moratorium and is heavily influenced by actors and political and economic situation, a very strong determining and controlling the government and policy in Indonesia.

  2. The Indonesian government has every intention of utterly destroying Papua’s forests so they can line their pockets. That is the reality, however much the rest of the world would like to see otherwise. If that means stealing Norway’s money as well as Papuans’ timber and natural resources, that is what they will do. They have been doing it for years – ever since President Yudhoyono’s father-in-law oversaw the sham vote that incorporated Papua into Indonesia – (not long after SBY’s sister-in-law was awarded a 200,000 hectare logging concession in the province). Elfian is right. SBY’s government plans business as usual in Papua. There is to much gold, copper, coal, oil, gas, nickel, and timber for them not to steal – that’s what thieves do. If the world wants to save Papua’s forests (and they really need to) the world needs to empower Papuan leaders so they can deal with them directly. Jakarta is not a climate opportunity. It is a liability. Jayapura is, however, a climate opportunity.