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”.