Australia shuts down the Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership: “A lot of funds spent and very little progress”

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Australia has quietly shelved its Kalimantan Forest Carbon Partnership project. The US$43 million project will be closed before most of the project’s targets have been met.

The project was launched in September 2007, by then-foreign minister Alexander Downer and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The project was supposed to protect 70,000 hectares of peat forest, re-flood 200,000 hectares of peat land, and plant 100 million trees. Even on its own terms the project has been a failure. A 2012 report on the project by Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes, two academics at the Australian National University, found that only 50,000 trees had been planted and none of the peat had been re-flooded. The project objectives had been “quietly but drastically scaled back”.

In an interview with ABC’s The World Today, Patrick Anderson of Forest Peoples Programme explains that he’s visited the KFCP project area several times and “there isn’t broad community support for the project”. He sums up the project: “A lot of funds spent and very little progress”.

The KFCP project was part of the Indonesia–Australia Forest Carbon Partnership (IAFCP), which was launched in June 2008. A second project under the IAFCP, the Sumatra Forest Carbon Partnership, was dropped after a March 2011 independent review. No on-the-ground project work took place in Sumatra.

In a press release, Deddy Ratih, of WALHI (Indonesian Friends of the Earth), is critical of the KFCP project,

“AusAID and the KFCP staff have failed to support conservation programs that are environmentally effective and sensitive to the rights of indigenous people in rural Indonesia.

“The KFCP is a missed opportunity to empower local communities to develop their sustainable livelihood practices and address the drivers of land conversion in Kalimantan.

“A key aspect of deforestation and land degradation is the lack of formal rights held by indigenous and rural people in Indonesia. The KFCP did nothing to assist local communities to assert their customary rights and develop capacity for sustainable land management.

“Over five years the project has produced no significant environmental outcomes, it created conflict in local communities and confusion about the status of their land.”

Rebecca Pearse, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Australia, also highlights the project’s failure to deal with land tenure issues in the project area. Writing in New Matilda she points out that,

The KFCP exacerbated conflicts about the status of land. Community concerns about the ways the project was implemented have been in circulation for some time. Yayasan Petak Danum (YPD), a Kalimantan indigenous organisation stated in 2011 that the project did not meaningfully engage the community. They expressed no confidence in project staff.

Pearse notes that the KFCP project and the IAFCP are run by a consultancy firm called Aurecon. On its website, Aurecon gives no hint of the complexities of implementing the KFCP project, and instead boasts that,

As managing contractors, Aurecon undertakes all administrative, logistical, financial and procurement services including designing, implementing, managing and reporting on high quality REDD+ demonstration and accounting activities.

The facility has so far executed more than 140 sub-contracts, conducted extensive socialisation of REDD+ within targeted communities, signed seven village agreements, trialled work packages within villages and developed a clear strategy for the development and implementation of a series of income generating activities.

Indeed, IAFCP was very reluctant to acknowledge the difficulties that the KFCP project ran into. In January 2013, Caity Peterson, a visiting researcher and science writer based at the Center for International Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, wrote an article for Thomson Reuters Foundation based on a presentation by IAFCP at a side event during COP18 in Doha. She explains that “the IAFCP has given us a life-size demonstration of how a REDD+ carbon scheme might work.” She concludes with this “take home message”:

The take-home message? That carbon programmes can work if they take careful steps to ensure the livelihood security of their participants. The hope? That other priority REDD+ programmes can learn from the KFCP example, and that the lessons from the partnership will serve as a “how-to” guide for forest carbon efforts around the world.

On 25 June 2013, IAFCP posted a short note on its website explaining that,

KFCP will not extend in its current form, but both governments are discussing which parts might benefit from additional work in the next 12 months to maximise outcomes.

Large-scale blocking of drainage canals will no longer be carried out. However, the methods and plans for blocking canals that were designed under KFCP are valuable.

In fact the project was shelved, “without having had sufficient time and opportunity to demonstrate how to block even a single canal”, as CIFOR’s Daniel Murdiyarso and Luca Tacconi, a professor at the Australian National University, point out, in an article in The Malaysian Insider.

This is despite the fact that the engineering plans had passed all the regulatory approval steps (including the environmental impact assessment and extensive community consultation processes), the tenders for the work had been issued, and the relevant Indonesian ministries had asked AusAID to continue the project.

Murdiyarso and Tacconi write that,

This premature termination of KFCP, prompted by political opposition to the project by some Australian politicians, means that the basic field research necessary to reduce future haze events is likely to be lost. It also means that Indonesian policy makers, land managers and peatland communities are left without practical strategies for rehabilitating cleared peatlands.

Stephen Howes, co-author with Erik Olbrei of the 2012 report about the KFCP project, is critical of the way the decision to shelve the project has been announced. AusAID gives no reasons for closing down the project other than that June 2013 was its planned closing date. Howes points out that many aid projects are extended and that it was obvious that KFCP was behind schedule.

In an article for devpolicy.org, Howes’ final paragraph is as follows,

Last year I co-authored a critical review of KFCP with Erik Olbrei. We concluded that “there was no point continuing along current lines” and that KFCP should be either abandoned or radically re-shaped. Clearly, the former has been the option chosen. Whether the correct decision or not, the failure to provide any reason for the effective closure of KFCP carries on a tradition of a lack of transparency which, as we argued in our review, has plagued the project since its inception.

In 2012, REDD-Monitor attempted to set up an interview with a representative from IAFCP. “Unfortunately, at this point we are not able to engage in this,” came the reply from IAFCP.


UPDATE – 6 July 2013: The sentence about the statement on IAFCP’s website changed to give the correct date that the page was updated. (Not 28 November 2012, as previously stated – see comment (#3), below. See also comment (#5) below.)


PHOTO Credit: Burning at KFCP project site, 2012, by Rebecca Pearse.

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Chris.

    Have you had a response yet from Sir Nicholas Stern as to whether he still believes that REDD is the quickest and easiest way to prevent climate change??

  2. A point of clarification for this story: IAFCP did not have a website on 28 November 2012.

  3. @Bakhtiar (#2) – Thanks for this comment, you may well be correct. However, the page on the IAFCP website has the date 28 November 2012:

    I would be happy to update the post, if you or someone from IAFCP could let me know when this note was actually posted on the IAFCP website. Perhaps IAFCP could also change the date on the website (so that others won’t be similarly misled). Updating the website to reflect the fact that the IAFCP has now been scaled down would be helpful, too.

  4. @TreeFellas (#1) – No, Lord Stern hasn’t replied to my questions. I think it’s safe to say that he declined to reply.

  5. Some dates (provided by IAFCP):

    28 November 2012 – The page on the IAFCP website about KFCP was created.

    9 December 2012 – The IAFCP website went live.

    25 June 2013 – The page on the IAFCP website about KFCP was updated.

  6. I am really confused because the Kalimantan Project was a very good demonstration site that clearly produced a lot of information and lessons learnt both negative and positive on the path of Indonesia, which was also broadly shared in various forums globally.

    I was also there in 2011 and spent a few days at their project sites, and learnt a lot from the communities. In order to avoid a biased perspective of this issue in itself here, my take on this would an instigating political factor relating to the domestic issues back in Australia, and as such it must not be perceived that this whole revoke was done on Indonesia’s failure.

    A team from Canberra is visiting my country soon, and this is not good news for my country as we would be expecting straight and honest answers for bilateral any future bilateral partnership.

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