The fires in Indonesia this year are the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century (so far). An area of about 2.5 million hectares of forest and peatland burned. Visibility was reduced to 30 metres in places. At least 19 people died. By the end of October, there were 500,000 cases of respiratory tract infections.
The greenhouse gas emissions from the burning were huge. Emissions from fires in Indonesia exceeded emissions from the entire US economy on several days in September and October this year.
The cumulative emissions from Indonesia’s fires saw Indonesia’s emissions in 2015 sail past those of Germany, Japan, Canada, Brazil and the United Kingdom, as this graph from the Guardian shows:
Sutopo Puro Nugroho, the spokesperson for the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, described the fires as “a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions.”
Wasn’t REDD supposed to stop this?
In 2010, Indonesia and Norway signed a US$1 billion REDD deal. Five years later, Indonesia’s annual dry season fires should be a thing of the past.
Last year, I wrote an article asking whether Norway’s REDD deals were reducing deforestation. I noted that Norway’s funding is largely “results-based”. I explained that I was concerned that,
“Results-based aid” may end up as little more than sitting back and waiting for what’s left of Indonesia’s forests to go up in smoke. In June 2013, smoke from fires in Sumatra set new pollution records in Singapore. Almost half of the fires were inside concessions for oil palm plantations and industrial tree plantations.
In his response Per Fredrik Pharo, director of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), did not mention fires in Indonesia. Instead he wrote that, in Indonesia, “the climate and forest agenda has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years”. He added that,
Since 2010, rainforest protection has been high on the political agenda. A moratorium on new concessions for conversion of natural forests for agricultural purposes has been established. Reviews of the existing concessions in the forestry sector have started. Important land tenure reform is underway. Groups that were previously excluded from Indonesia’s forest management have been involved in a very different way. Indonesia is also taking important steps towards an end to impunity.
What is Norway’s response to the 2015 fires in Indonesia?
Three days ago, a teacher of Animal Conservation in the UK wrote to REDD-Monitor with a very good question:
“I wanted to ask if Norway had a response to the fires in Indonesia this year?”
I haven’t seen any responses from Norway to the fires. I googled for a response but couldn’t find one. I looked on the website of the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta. Here’s a screenshot:
The greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century merits no more than a warning for Norwegian visitors to Indonesia that,
smoke from these fires in many places is now so toxic that it cannot be ruled out that even relatively short-term stays can be dangerous to health. This applies to areas in parts of Kalimantan and Sumatra and partly also in southern areas of Papua.
And right at the end of a feel-good article about Norway’s support to WWF for a project in East Kalimantan, a photo caption notes that,
Haze from forest fires is a major problem throughout Indonesia and particularly critical this year extensive drought has prolonged the haze period.
Norway’s response to Indonesia’s peatland (mis)management
NICFI’s director Per Fredrik Pharo recently gave an interview to Ecosystem Marketplace. He told the journalist, Fidelis E. Satriastanti, that Norway was still ready to support Indonesia’s effort in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
He said Norway welcomed Indonesia’s suggestion to set up a financing agency under the authority of ministry of finance. According to the Letter of Intent signed between Norway and Indonesia, Indonesia was supposed to set up a financing institution in 2011. This deadline has now been pushed back to June 2016.
So far, Norway has given only US$60 million out of a possible total of US$200 million for REDD readiness in Indonesia. The remaining US$800 million is for payments for verified emissions reduction.
The first two phases of the Norway-Indonesia REDD deal were supposed to be completed by the end of 2014, at which point payments could be made for emissions reductions in 2013.
Pharo told Ecosystem Marketplace that,
“The LoI between Indonesia and Norway is how Norway can support Indonesia’s agenda in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, So, Indonesia’s agenda comes first and Norway supports it. That’s important. We’re not trying to create [our own] agenda.”
Which sounds fine, except that more than five years after the Letter of Intent was signed, Indonesia is not reducing its emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The fires this year massively increased Indonesia’s emissions.
Pharo said that Indonesia’s approach on peatlands management to tackle carbon emissions was very encouraging.
I sent the following email to Pharo asking for an explanation of this extraordinary comment. I look forward to posting his response in full on REDD-Monitor.
From: Chris Lang
Date: 3 December 2015 at 16:50
Subject: Indonesia’s fires in 2015
To: Per Fredrik Pharo
Dear Per Fredrik,
In a recent interview with Ecosystem Marketplace, you are quoted as saying that “Indonesia’s approach on peatlands management to tackle carbon emissions was very encouraging”.
As I’m sure you are aware, vast areas of Indonesia’s peatlands have been on fire for several months this year. Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions have soared. At least 19 people died, 500,000 people have suffered respiratory tract infections, and In October the Norwegian embassy in Jakarta warned that the smoke is so toxic that even short stays in parts of Sumatra, Kalimantan and South Papua could be a health hazard. Journalist George Monbiot described the fires as “the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st Century (so far)”.
Could you please explain why you said that Indonesia’s approach to peatlands management is “very encouraging”?
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you. Please consider your response to be on the record.
Regards, Chris Lang
PHOTO credit: Firefighters fight fire at night, near Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, CIFOR.