Avoided deforestation or avoiding the issue? USAID’s forest carbon project in West Bali National Park in Indonesia

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Last week, a small announcement appeared on the website of the US Embassy in Jakarta: “The United States government and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry today launched a new rainforest standard for carbon credits in West Bali National Park.”

It’s an extraordinary project. In a country faced with very high rates of deforestation, this is a forest carbon trading project in a national park.

The project will be carried out by the University of Columbia, the University of Indonesia and the Sustainable Management Group with funding from USAID.

Jatna Supriatna, head of the University of Indonesia’s Research Center for Climate Change, told the Bali Daily that,

“We have set a target that within the next one year or two, we will have discovered the appropriate and standardized mechanism to develop carbon credits using the RFS [Rainforest Standard] system.”

Supriatna explained that the aim was to sell carbon credits on the voluntary market. Part of the profits are to be used for conservation of the West Bali National Park.

The Bali Daily also spoke to Tedy Sutedi, the head of the national park and reported that,

Tedy Sutedi, head of the park, welcomed the initiative to designate the park as the pilot project for research, saying that it would support the park’s management plan to reduce deforestation rates. He said that based on continuous monitoring, no deforestation occurred in the park, however, there were some cases of ornamental fish and wood thefts by locals.

So the National Park already has a management plan aimed at reducing deforestation rates. And according to Sutedi, it’s very successful, as there is no deforestation in the Park.

A recent global forest mapping study by the University of Maryland, with help from Google and NASA reveals that Sutedi may be exaggerating the success of the National Park’s management. The map below shows deforestation in 2012 in red, and deforestation since 2000 in yellow and orange (the road dissects the national park):

Even with this small current rate of deforestation, the project developers have to prove that the project is additional before carbon credits can be sold. They have to prove that deforestation would have continued or increased in the absence of the project. That’s going to be tricky under the rules of the “Rainforest Standard” that the US Embassy mentions in its press release.

The Rainforest Standard was launched at Rio+20 in 2012, after a four-year collaboration between Columbia University’s Center for Environment, Economy, and Society and five environmental trust funds in the Amazon: the PUMA Environmental Fund Foundation (Bolivia); the Fund for Biodiversity (Brazil); the Environmental Action Fund (Colombia); the National Environmental Fund (Ecuador); and Trust Fund for National Parks and Protected Areas (Peru).

The Rainforest Standard uses three tests to check whether a project is additional: a legal additionality test, an economic incentives test and an existing incentives test. The legal additional test is described as follows in the Rainforest Standard (pdf file, 1.3 MB):

In general, a “strict” Legal Additionality Test states that if there is a law, regulation, or contractual obligation that prohibits Tree Biomass removals in the Project Area the Project is not additional, regardless of the extent to which the prohibition has been enforced.

The project in West Bali National Park clearly fails the Rainforest Standard’s legal additionality test.

In his comment for the Bali Daily, Zulkifli Hasan, Indonesia’s Foresty Minister, read from Columbia University’s website:

“The Rainforest Standard is based on the fundamental understanding that the environment, economy, and society are ‘in it together’.”

At the launch of the project, Andrew Sisson, USAID mission director in Indonesia, said that,

“Through this initiative, Indonesia is at the leading edge of preserving biodiversity and setting conservation standards. We believe that scientific collaboration between the US and Indonesia can help to address the challenge of global climate change.”

This claim is ludicrous, based as it is on a project that has yet to start and which is aimed at protecting forest in a National Park in Bali. The project will do nothing to address the drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and less to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel.

Robin Biddulph, a researcher at the Department of Human Geography at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, describes such projects as “Geographies of Evasion”. He explains the concept as “implementing interventions in places where they do not make a difference”.

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4 Comments

  1. This raises some serious questions:

    Will the ornamental fish get some reprieve?
    Can fish be used as ornaments?
    Is the aid (“from the American people”) going to the fish?

  2. I don’t see anywhere any details of how much money Columbia University is getting from USAID to implement this project.

  3. We applaud the author’s concerns that any REDD or REDD-like project demonstrate real and verifiable reductions in carbon emissions. As the author rightfully points out, the project proponent must show that reductions in tree biomass removal are a direct consequence of activities undertaken as part of the project and would not have occurred anyway.

    Unfortunately, the author is incorrect in asserting that The RFS precludes government gazetted Protected Areas because they do not pass a three-level additionality test. The RFS explicitly states the following:

    “ER1: The RFS™ endorses the strict Legal Additionality Test, but allows one exception under very limited circumstances: i.e. where there is a history of recent and repeated Tree Biomass removals inside a Protected Area.

    Limiting evidence of removals to those that have occurred inside a Protected Area eliminates consideration of threats from external Drivers of Deforestation such as highway construction or expanding farming and ranching activity. In the view of The RFS™, outside threats should not be considered because the law has already recognized those threats when prohibiting removals inside the Protected Area. In other words, external threats to a Protected Area cannot trigger a finding of Additionality; instead there must be evidence that the Protected Area is experiencing recent and repeated Tree Biomass removals despite its legal protection, i.e., there is clear evidence of ineffective enforcement in the Protected Area. The RFS™ recognizes that there may also be examples of ineffective enforcement of laws against removing Tree Biomass outside of Protected Areas; however, the extent to which any Project Proponent is complicit or compliant with respect to illegal removals is presently deemed too difficult to determine. The RFS™ makes the presumption that the Governmental Authority managing a Protected Area would not be so complicit or compliant. Therefore, The RFS™ retains strict legal Additionality for all Project Areas other than Protected Areas[1].

    [1] Reduced Removals in Protected Areas will be able to earn a special form of RFS Credit™ to be known as RFS Protected Area Credits™. Important features of RFS Protected Area Credits™ include: (a) proceeds from their sale must be used solely for the social, environmental, and economic well-being of the Protected Area and its Rightsholders; (b) the credits cannot be resold or transferred by the initial purchaser, and therefore will not be subject to market price fluctuations or speculation; and (c) credit purchase agreements will be long-term and performance-based. RFS Protected Area Credits™ will be used to financially support management of Protected Areas to reduce their deforestation and degradation consistent with the integrated social, environmental, and economic well-being practices required by The Rainforest Standard. Specific Requirements with respect to RFS Protected Area Credits™ will be detailed in The Rainforest Standard Version 3.0 to be released in early 2013.”

    As the author points out, The RFS was constructed by a group of natural scientists, social scientists, economists, lawyers, and other professionals from 5 Amazon countries, and the U.S., and was vetted by a set of international experts. Based on on-the-ground experience of this group of nearly 70 practitioners, a conservative method was developed to include Protected Areas. Why? Because in all but a very few countries, Protected Areas are not protected. The principal reason for the lack of protection is a lack of funding to underwrite a Best Practices Management Plan that includes all stakeholders in the protection of the Protected Area. The RFS Protected Area Credit system has been set up specifically to provide an innovative sustainable funding mechanism to fully implement a Protected Area’s Best Practices Management Plan and provide incentives to all stakeholders to engage in activities that will greatly reduce tree biomass removal.

    The author further points out that there is clear evidence of tree biomass removal from Bali Barat National Park (BBNP) based on University of Maryland data. If this can be historically validated over the past 12 years, something we are working on right now, it will form the basis for The RFS Protected Area Credit project we have just initiated in BBNP. It will also form the basis for the funding to greatly reduce or eliminate any further tree biomass removal from BBNP, which in turn will greatly reduce forest degradation, carbon emissions, and biodiversity loss, while improving the socioeconomic conditions of the surrounding communities.

    These are outcomes that we would expect the author and many others to find worthy of support.

  4. @Don Melnick (#3) – Thanks for this comment. First, I have two observations (on which I think we can agree), followed by four questions.

    The observations:

    1. Deforestation in West Bali National Park is low compared to many other areas of Indonesia (whether or not they are inside national parks).

    2. Determining how much carbon is saved from entering the atmosphere as a result of a REDD project is fiendishly complicated. It’s difficult to measure the carbon accurately and it’s even more difficult to guess what would have happened in the absence of the project. Having said that, it’s even more difficult to stop deforestation in areas of current rapid deforestation such as Sumatra or Kalimantan or where the threat of deforestation is high, such as Papua.

    The questions:

    1. If the aim is to stop deforestation in the West Bali National Park, is a forest carbon project the best solution?

    2. If the aim is to reduce deforestation in Indonesia, why is stopping deforestation in the West Bali National Park a priority?

    3. If the aim is to stop deforestation in national parks in Indonesia, why start in a national park with very little deforestation?

    4. How much money has the University of Columbia received from USAID for the Rainforest Standard project in total? And how much for this project in Bali?

    Finally, could you send me the link to the Rainforest Standard Version 3.0 (“to be released in early 2013″) – I couldn’t find it on the University of Columbia website. Thanks.

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