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Greenomics Indonesia accuses Rimba Raya REDD project of misleading the public and the carbon market

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At the end of May 2013, several articles appeared about the approval of the Rimba Raya REDD project in Indonesia. “World’s largest REDD project finally approved in Indonesia”, and “Perseverance Pays Off For World’s Largest REDD Project”, were two of the headlines. A few days later, these headlines were edited to reflect the fact that the project is not the world’s largest REDD project, in terms of either area or carbon credits.

The confusion came from a press release dated 30 May 2013, by SCS Global Services, following its VCS verification of the Rimba Raya project. SCS Global Services’ press release states that,

Indonesia’s Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve has become the world’s largest verified “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD) carbon offset project after successfully undergoing a third-party verification by SCS Global Services under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). The project will preserve carbon-rich tropical peat swamp and forest, originally slated for development into palm oil plantations, while also providing a critical reserve for endangered Orangutans.

This wasn’t the first time that the approval of Rimba Raya had been announced. In December 2012, the Economist reported a “cheering announcement” that “punctured the gloom” at the start of COP18 in Doha: Indonesia’s government had approved the Rimba Raya project. Reuters reported having seen a letter signed by Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan that said that “the project had passed all the key steps”.

In a statement, Zulkifli said that,

“We hope projects like Rimba Raya will lead the way in proving that conservation can address the rural development needs of the communities and also preserve our forests for generations to come.”

But a report by Greenomics Indonesia stated that Rimba Raya was “Not a done deal” and that the Ministry of Forestry had not issued an Ecosystem Restoration License for the project. Infinite-Earth, the project developer, confirmed to mongabay.com that the final licence had not been issued, but “all requirements have been met and the license will be forthcoming.”

After the recent announcements, REDD-Monitor wrote to Infinite-Earth to ask for confirmation that the project has now received full approval from the Indonesian authorities. Jim Procanik at Infinite-Earth sent the following reply:

Yes, the Indonesian officials have officially approved the work area of approx 64k for use by PT Rimba Raya as a conservation (REDD) Project. The project has undergone a rigorous audit by an independent verifier (SCS Global Services). The final item in that 2-1/2 year audit was a full review of the project’s “right of use” as defined under the VCS standard, of which the government land-use license was the missing piece.

Once again, Greenomics Indonesia has produced a report about whether the Rimba Raya project has actually received approval. Titled “Rimba Raya Conservation Project’s claims could mislead the public and the carbon market,” the report can be downloaded here (pdf file, 1.06 MB).


UPDATE – 20 July 2013: Infinite Earth has responded to the Greenomics Indonesia report. The response is available here.


Greenomics Indonesia’s report concludes that it is “Not true that the Indonesian Government has approved 64,000 hectares for Rimba Raya Conservation Project.” Greenomics explains that on 5 March 2013, the Ministry of Forestry did issue a licence for the Rimba Raya project, but that this covered an area of 36,331 hectares.

Greenomics breaks down the 64,000 hectare Rimba Raya project into the following areas:

    36,331 hectares now has an ecosystem restoration licence.
    18,642 hectares is within the Tanjung Puting National Park and not part of the carbon project.
    8,110 hectares of palm oil plantation is subject to collaboration between the two companies that own the concession (PT WAM and PT RSUP) and Rimba Raya Conservation.
    820 hectares of convertible production forest is awaiting conversion to permanent production forest.
    95 hectares of non-forest estate is in the process of being converted to permanent production forest.

In July 2010, the Rimba Raya REDD project developers believed they were weeks away from winning approval for the project. At that time the project covered 90,000 hectares. Project development had cost US$2 million. Todd Lemons, the CEO of Infinite-Earth told Reuters that,

“Success was literally two months around the corner. We went through – if there are 12 steps, we went through the first 11 on time over a 2-year period. We had some glitches, but by and large we went through the rather lengthy and complicated process in the time expected.”

Then the Ministry of Forestry slashed the project area in half and handed over a part of the remainder to a palm oil company. The project area is now reduced to 64,000 hectares and almost half, according to Greenomics Indonesia, has approval. That’s after five years’ work.

Two years ago, David Fogarty, then a journalist with Reuters, commented that,

[T]he project is proof that saving the world’s tropical rainforests will be far more complicated than simply setting up a framework to allow market forces to function.

And in December 2012, after the fake announcement from the Indonesian authorities that the project had been approved, the Economist noted that,

That Rimba Raya has persisted and won is a tribute to the tenacity of its promoters. But their experience raises a hard question. If a project with so much in its favour finds the going so hard, what hope is there for others?

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